Deal near on funds for mental health centers

JACKSON – Officials are near agreement on providing state funds to ensure the 15 community mental health centers remain open during the new fiscal year, which began Thursday.
While no formal agreement has been reached, a spokeswoman for the Department of Mental Health said a tentative plan is being hashed out that would have the Department of Mental Health provide half of the funds and the community mental health centers pay the rest.
“We are close,” said Wendy Bailey, the spokeswoman.
The money is needed to help the centers pay the matching funds needed to draw down federal Medicaid dollars.
Last month House Public Health Chair Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, called on Gov. Haley Barbour to set a special session to deal with a lack of funding for the community mental health centers.
A Barbour spokesman did not rule out a special session, but said the governor preferred other ways to deal with the issue.
Senate Public Health Chair Hob Bryan, D-Amory, also expressed the need to ensure the community mental health centers receive funding help. Both Holland and Bryan have been working with the governor’s office to resolve the issue, which could jeopardize services if not resolved.
If the Department of Mental Health provides 50 percent of the state costs, that would be at least $12 million or $16 million or more, depending on whether the federal government provides additional stimulus funds.
Bailey said that would have a significant impact on the Department of Mental Health, which already is dealing with budget woes caused by the unprecedented drop in state tax collections.
“This additional funding obligation has forced us to look at reducing services available to individuals and-or reduce the number of facilities,” Bailey said. “We are in the process of cutting the number of general fund grants we give to community mental health service providers including non-profits. We will continue to look at every means possible to reduce the cost of existing facilities and programs.”
Bailey said the agency will develop a plan to deal with the cuts if the state agency does absorb part of the costs of the community mental health centers.
The 15 community mental health centers, including those in Oxford, Tupelo and Corinth, operate independently and provide services for people dealing with mental illness, drug addictions, intellectual disabilities and others.
The Department of Mental Health also contracts with the centers to provide community-based treatments.
Rep. Harvey Moss, D-Corinth, said he hopes a solution to fund the centers can be reached.
“If they close I am afraid we will have to go back to putting people in jails just because they are sick,” Moss said.
The problem hinges on how to fund the state match to receive federal Medicaid money, which represents about 80 percent of the centers’ revenue.
In recent years, the Legislature and Barbour have not provided state funds to provide the required match. The Department of Mental Health has given the funds from its budget. But the board overseeing the Department of Mental Health has been more reluctant to provide the funds during the current budget woes.
Ed LeGrand, executive director of the Department of Mental Health, has said that while his agency cannot afford to pay the full match for the centers, it is still important they receive help because they are a key cog in the state’s mental health delivery system.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal