Clarksdale’s Region I Mental Health Center received news July 1 that may literally cut it off at its knees and cause serious problems for the four counties its serves and its 3,000 mental health clients.
Governor Haley Barbour vetoed a bill passed by the Mississippi House and Senate to fund the state’s regional mental health facilities, leaving them without the $29 million matching funds to run the facilities.
According to Karen Corley, interim director of the Regional I Mental Health Center in Clarksdale, this is devastating news and could possibly mean a shut-down of the area’s only non-private mental health facility along with the lay-offs of all 158 people on staff.
“We don’t know what is going to happen. The legislature is going back into special session this Friday and we are hopeful that our funding will be included,” Corley stated. “If it isn’t, we do not know what we are going to do. We are right now just working to get everyone behind us to get the funding. If not, this could be catastrophic.”
Region I Mental Health Center provides services to approximately 3,000 mental health patients, most needing life supporting medications and therapy. According to David Cook, clinical director, most of the 3,000 patients currently using Region I Mental Health Center will end up on the street with no medication, which could lead to psychotic breakdowns.
“We have people who come here on a daily basis to receive life altering medications. Many of our clients have major psychoses, have no insurance, and could end up not functioning. There are no hospitals to service our clients and state facilities are extremely backed-up. It could be weeks or months before anything opens up for them. They will probably end up on the streets, in jail, or in Whitfield, if anything is available,” Cook stated.
The staff is currently juggling to stave off the potential shut-down of the facility rather than worrying about their own jobs. If the legislature chooses not to address the problem, all 158 people currently on the staff will probably lose their jobs.
The Region I Mental Health Center is an independent, public, non-profit agency which receives 56 percent of its funding from the Federal Government, but must match the funds. The matching funds, which have come from the state, are what Barbour vetoed. These monies from the state are then paid to the federal government (matching medicaid funds).The Mississippi State Department of Mental Health disburses the money to the Regional Mental Health Centers.
DMH has notified the Department of Medicaid that some of the community mental health centers cannot pay the match and others do not plan to pay the match because of the legality of the request.“For some centers, the lack of funding will have immediate consequences. None of the centers can provide services as intended and survive any length of time,” said Jerry Mayo, executive director of Pine Belt Mental Health in Hattiesburg and president of the Mississippi Association of Community Mental Health Centers.
“Current Medicaid rates do not cover the full costs of most of the services provided as it is. Without the match, services provided by our centers would have to be reduced drastically. 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,” said Mayo.
The fifteen community mental health centers operate as individual businesses serving defined counties and not as state-owned institutions or a division of the Department of Mental Health. The centers throughout the state serve more than 100,000 citizens per year including residential services for the seriously mentally ill and addicted. These will likely be some of the first programs that will need to be reduced if the lack of funding goes unaddressed, according to Mayo.
As the name implies, community mental health centers provide services in community settings such as schools, homes, correctional facilities and churches as well as outpatient clinics and facilities in every county of the state. Programs range from intensive services for the seriously mentally ill, behavioral interventions for children, and residential treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, to HIV testing and counseling, prevention programs and specialized services for the elderly.
“We have in good faith worked with the legislators over the years. The House has been very receptive and supportive. It is apparent that others have placed politics above the needs of the seriously mentally ill, developmentally disabled, children and elderly,” said Mayo.The Clarksdale staff requests that citizens contact state officials and request that the funds be made available to continue the services.
As if taxing our hospitals to death were not enough, now our Governor Barbour has turned his wrath toward our community mental health centers. Although the above article refers to Region I (Clarksdale's) possible closure, all 14 Regions in the state face the same woes if his "lunacy" is not stopped.
Throughout the state, thousands of adults and children depend on our community mental health centers for counseling and medications to remain functional members of our society. What will happen to these people? Inpatient treatment is outrageously expensive in comparison to the cost of the outpatient treatment offered at our current facilities.
Where will these patients go... to the hospital ERs which are already crowded with non-emergency patients. That will only increase their costs, not to mention that ER staff members are not qualified to deal with psychiatric patients.
Failing to fund our mental health centers will adversely impact every public institution in our state. Crime will increase, hospitals will incur additional costs, schools will suffer as un-medicated children become disruptive, hundreds of jobs will be lost and most importantly, our friends, family and loved ones will incur great suffering.
If you have never needed the services of our community mental health centers, you are among the fortunate; but, I would bet that you know someone whose life and future happiness depends upon their existence. Mental health disorders are some of the most debilitating maladies that we face today and to withdraw services to these patients will have catastrophic results!
Since Barbour refuses to discuss this matter with either the senate or the house, it is difficult to discern his actual motives; however, the results of his actions are quite clear: Increased crime, major job losses and untold human suffering.
If you feel strongly about this health care travesty, get on line and write your state Representatives and the governor and let them know how you feel. Barbour is no friend to health care and if we allow him to go unchecked, he will completely destroy what has taken Mississippi so long to achieve.