EDITORIAL: Mental health funds

The Legislature’s public health chairs – Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, and Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory – have been working relentlessly to resolve a serious funding shortfall jeopardizing mental health services and community-based centers statewide, and their efforts apparently have made great headway.
Holland had earlier called on Gov. Haley Barbour to call a special session to deal with the issues but set out to find a non-legislative solution when told the governor’s preferred not calling a session.

Budget crisis
The larger issue swirls out of the state’s overall revenue crisis and the difficulty of the Department of Mental Health and the community-based mental health centers in finding money empowering the drawdown of federal matching funds.
Holland and Bryan lead a legislatively sanctioned study group working on the broader issues of mental heath services statewide. Its membership is comprised of both Democrats and Republicans and a wide variety of occupations, professions and interests, including non-legislators. Its broader work cannot move efficiently forward so long as mental health services aren’t funded at a functional level.
Bryan and Holland have worked directly with the official mental health providers to devise a shared – and mutually beneficial – solution to the funding crisis.
The plan would require the department and the centers to each provide 50 percent of what’s needed for the match to draw down additional federal funds. The amount needed could be from $24 million to $32 million depending on financial factors that aren’t fully set at the federal level.

Many affected
We hope the Holland-Bryan compromise effort works out because it could assure continuation of many services – although at reduced levels – from the department and the community-based programs. Thousands of patients and family members stand to be directly affected by the decisions made and implemented.
The state’s mental health budget contribution would not increase, an issue that is problematic for fiscal year 2012. Legislators and Barbour realistically should be pushed to find additional revenue for mental health service adequacy.
The study committee is reviewing ways to reduce the frequency of institutionalization for mentally ill people, which requires better community-based professional services.
The issue is complex. It includes some long-needed and widely supported reforms like finding ways to avoid having people committed by a civil court from being sent to a jail and housed as an inmate until space is available in a certified mental institution.
Changes in laws, practices, facilities and funding, plus a better professional service base, must be built up to achieve those kinds of goals.

NEMS Daily Journal

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