Funding fight looms for mental health services

By Bobby Harrison / Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Funding of the state’s mental health system is shaping up as one of the biggest issues of the 2011 legislative session.
During the 2010 session, the Legislature gave the nine-member Board of Mental Health the authority to close facilities to deal with a funding shortfall.
Nothing was closed, but the board did develop a contingency plan in case the Department of Mental Health agency does not receive additional funding during the 2011 session, which starts Jan. 4.
Among the facilities slated for possible closing under that plan is the 50-bed North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo.
House Public Health Chair Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, disagrees with the idea of giving the board the authority to close mental health facilities without legislative consent. He said he will strive during the 2011 session to ensure none are closed.
But the two budget proposals prepared for the session contain cuts for the DMH.
Gov. Haley Barbour’s budget proposal reduces the agency’s funding $17.6 million, or 7.2 percent, according to information provided by the staff of the Legislative Budget Committee. The budget proposal of the Legislative Budget Committee, which consists of 14 House and Senate leaders, cuts the agency’s budget 4.4 percent, or $10.7 million.
Wendy Bailey, a spokeswoman for the agency, has said the continuation of existing services depends on essentially level funding, including the replacement of about $17 million in lost federal stimulus funds.
In addition, she said, the agency needs another $20 million to fund half the costs required to draw down federal Medicaid funds for the state’s 15 community mental health centers.
The 15 community mental health centers, each governed by its own board, operate independently and serve people dealing with mental illness, people suffering from drug addictions, people dealing with intellectual disabilities and with other disabilities.
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 Department of Mental Health paid half of the Medicaid match for the centers this past year, but Executive Director Ed LeGrand has said his agency cannot afford the payment again in the upcoming year without additional funds from the Legislature.
Some of the centers have said they cannot continue to operate without state help to draw down the federal Medicaid funds.
While the Legislative Budget Committee did not provide funds for the community mental health centers, it did say legislators should try to find additional money to fund them during the 2011 session.
But that might be difficult since the Legislature is dealing with a budget shortfall of at least $500 million.
Holland said funding mental health, including the community mental health centers, should be a priority.
Failure to fund them, he said, could put a burden on local governments if mental health patients had to be held in county jails because of the longer wait to be placed in an accredited mental health center.
“There are things like mental health that we have every intention of taking care of,” Holland said.
“We have to make sure we are not impacting local governments because we didn’t do what needs to be done in Jackson.”
Senate Appropriations Chair Doug Davis, R-Hernando, said, “The community mental health centers have been a priority and will continue to be. As far as numbers, I think it is too early in the process to say this is what we will do.”
Bailey said that more than 100,000 people are served by the community mental health centers. The centers include Region 3 based in Tupelo, Region 2 based in Oxford and Timber Hills based in Corinth.
Due to past funding shortages to the Department of Mental Health, she added, more than 15,000 people have been affected so far “because of the cuts in grants this past year which provide services such as medication purchases, group homes (and) crisis intervention.”

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