The current recession is causing budget cuts in cities all over America. In Phoenix, my hometown, the City Council is considering closing 15 recreation centers, five large community centers, five senior centers, six libraries, three sports complexes, and eliminating police positions that work closely with neighborhood groups.

If this happens we will get sicker and sicker because we will be closing down the # 1 health promotion project in this or any other city. Those city services are what give us neighborhoods, a sense of small-town warmth, security and camaraderie. Those are the places where kids are shooting hoops, seniors play cards, and mothers’ hang out while there kids participate in affordable, after-school dance programs. Closing these places may help reduce the budget deficit but we will pay for it in the long run in increased healthcare costs.

With fewer places to hang out and connect, the old will become more isolated, and without stimulation they’ll get depressed and confused faster. Then they’ll become patients; they will be sent to a doctor who will make a diagnosis and prescribe drugs (these medications are likely to make them even more confused or agitated).

The young will find other (maybe less savory) ways to release their energies, but with fewer places to get out their youthful enthusiasm and competitiveness, you can be sure they’ll get antsy and some will be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, and for which they too will be medicated (also with terrible potential side effects).

Instead of closing these centers we ought to be creating more such community services as ways of promoting health. Investing in communities is a real step in true health care reform; it moves us from the current interventional system in which you have to get sick before anyone pays attention to you. You first get a diagnosis (which has a number) because that’s the only way a “provider” can get reimbursed. This is a paradigm of healthcare delivery that is predicated on making people sick. Are you aware that 25% of all Americans now carry a mental illness diagnosis? This is ridiculous! This is the result of declaring any unacceptable feelings or behaviors, as diseases.

Let’s rise up Americans! Build communities instead of tearing out their hearts because they can keep us healthy. Stand up and make this a statement about real healthcare reform, a paradigm shift from a model based on intervention and treatment to one based on prevention and healing. Find out if this is happening under the guise of budget cuts in your city. Go to public meetings, raise the issue, and ensure it is addressed in a public forum.

In Arizona, Phoenix residents can still raise concerns about these budget cuts. For information call (602) 262 – 4800, or e-mail (budget.research@phoenix.gov).

Scottsdale is available online at www.scottsdaleaz.gov/finance.asp

Tucson: www.ci.tucson.az.us/budget/

Flagstaff: www.flagstaff.az.gov/index.aspx?nid=164