Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
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NEWORLEANS - The latest round of reductions to public health care in Louisiana leaves the Northshore with even fewer mental health care services than it was already coping with.

Thursday, the LSU hospital system announced $11 million in cuts at Bogalusa Medical Center. That means 146 positions will be eliminated and the psychiatric unit will be closed.

'It's going to actually end up being a choice people have to make, whether they live or die, whether they can afford to go to the doctor or they can't afford to go to the doctor,' said State Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa.

The news comes on the heels of the doors shutting at Southeast Louisiana Hospital for mental health in Mandeville. People say that only leaves local emergency rooms as a place of last resort for hundreds facing mental illness on the Northshore. For Jesse Thomas, who fought through his own mental health battle with help from public services, that means virtually no options for people who need and want help like he got.

'It makes a big difference having a professional help someone than just trying to get through it yourself,' he said.

Lawmakers cut out of the process are fed up.

'In their presentation, they are talking about how mental health care is a priority to them,' said State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, 'It's laughable except it's so serious that it makes you cry.'

But the state says shrinking the psychiatric bed count doesn't mean services aren't growing in other ways, like with the Louisiana Behavioral Health Partnership started this year.

'We still have capacity, but now we have ways to navigate the system, ways to integrate care, ways to manage the full patient experience, both in-patient and community based,' said DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein.

An effort to call a special legislative session to reverse the health care cuts is underway now. Thirty-five state representatives have to sign onto a petition calling for the session in order for the entire legislature to decide on whether to return to the Capitol.

For more information on the Louisiana Behavioral Health Partnership, call 1-800-424-4399.

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