Mental health centers: Budget veto hurts services

JACKSON — A top administrator said Thursday that some of Mississippi’s 15 community mental health centers could have trouble surviving because Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed $7 million in state funding.

The money was intended to cover shortages in the centers’ budgets for the fiscal year that ended Tuesday.

Jerry Mayo, executive director of Pine Belt Mental Health in Hattiesburg and president of the Mississippi Association of Community Mental Health Centers, said some centers will have to “drastically” cut services to save money.

“Such a reduction in services is likely to contribute to long waiting lists for state hospital beds and an increase in the number of citizens being held in jails awaiting those beds,” Mayo said in a news release.

Barbour said Wednesday that he vetoed the funding because lawmakers agreed to take only $95 million out of the state’s rainy day fund — about one-quarter of the balance in the financial reserves. Barbour said the $7 million exceeded that promise.

The community mental health centers are not residential centers. Rather, they provide services in schools, homes, prisons, churches and outpatient clinics. In some cases, the centers provide help for seriously ill people who are waiting to be admitted to state mental hospitals.

Mayo said the community mental health centers serve about 100,000 people a year and receive their funding from counties and other sources. He said that for the fiscal year that started Wednesday, the state budget does not include money for the 15 centers.

The centers, collectively, owe the state Department of Mental Health $1.8 million for June, and will owe the department the same amount each month for the coming year, Mayo said.

The state uses the money to bring in more federal cash through Medicaid, a government health insurance program for the needy.

Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press