Funding crisis averted at mental health centers

JACKSON – The seemingly perpetual financial crisis facing the state’s 15 community mental health centers apparently has been averted through at least June 2012.
An agreement has been reached by which the Department of Mental Health, under budget strains of its own, will pay half of the Medicaid match needed to help keep the centers open.
In Northeast Mississippi, the centers are Region 3 based in Tupelo, Region 2 based in Oxford and Timber Hills based in Corinth.
“Hopefully this will put us in pretty good shape and allow us to keep going,” said Charlie Spearman, the executive director of the Timber Hills Center.
Earlier this summer it appeared that some of the community mental health centers might have to close because they could not afford to pay the state’s share of the match to pull down federal funds to treat Medicaid recipients.
Under state law as interpreted by the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, the state will not pay for the treatment of Medicaid recipients at the community mental health centers.
If a Medicaid recipient receives similar care for a mental illness from a private provider, whether from a doctor or a hospital, the state of Mississippi and the federal government pay for the treatment.
But if a Medicaid recipient goes to a community mental health center for treatment, the federal government pays, and the state doesn’t.
In the past, the Department of Mental Health has picked up much of the state’s tab for the treatment of Medicaid recipients at the centers.
But the department’s budget has shrunk because of the slowdown in state tax collections, and its board has been reluctant to pick up the cost for the community mental centers.
Under the agreement, Wendy Bailey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Mental Health, said the Department of Mental Health and the community mental health centers will each pay 50 percent of the expected $28 million to $30 million needed for the current fiscal year and for the next, which ends June 30, 2012, to draw down federal Medicaid funds.
Plus, the Department of Mental Health paid $12 million toward the match for the past year.
“I am thrilled we are maintaining our system of community mental health centers,” said House Public Health Chair Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. “I also feel strongly the state is not meeting its obligation toward the centers. I think they are meeting us more than halfway.”
The 15 community mental health centers operate independently and serve people dealing with mental illness, people suffering from drug addictions, people dealing with intellectual disabilities and others.
The Department of Mental Health also contracts with the centers to provide community-based treatments, including to people who have been discharged from state mental health hospitals.
The centers receive funding from a tax levy in the counties in their service region. The centers treat people regardless of their ability to pay.
Ed LeGrand, director of the Department of Mental Health and an advocate of the centers, said 80 percent of the centers’ total revenue is from treating Medicaid-eligible patients.
In many instances, the centers provide the only local alternative for patients who might otherwise be housed in a county jail until they are transferred to a mental health hospital.
Spearman said he is hopeful that a permanent solution to the funding problems facing the centers can be found during the upcoming session of the Legislature.
“I think more legislators are more aware of our situation,” Spearman said.
The current fiscal year runs through June 30.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal