Monday, December 15, 2008

Kansas advocates fear state cuts will hurt mental health care services

From The AP:

GARDEN CITY, Kan. -- When state Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer was growing up, mental illness was something he never really heard much about.

That's changed though as he has grown older, stepping into his role as a state senator from Grinnell. Ostmeyer lost a close friend to suicide and said to a group of staff and Board of Directors with the Area Mental Health Center that he has carried through his legislative career a soft place in his heart for the unborn, disabled veterans and those with mental illness.

"Those people need a voice," he said.

Ostmeyer and other legislators, including Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, attended a recent legislative reception hosted by the Area Mental Center at its Campusview property. Ric Dalke, executive director for Area Mental Health, said the night's agenda was simple: information on how the current financial crisis will play out this legislative session, especially on how the financial picture will affect those suffering from a serious or persistent mental illness.

At the same time, Dalke and those with the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas Inc., including Executive Director Mike Hammond, are attempting to educate legislators as much as they can, so when it comes time to discuss funding of the community mental health centers across the state, as well as the general statewide mental health system, the support is there.

Currently, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services is recommending reducing the Community Mental Health Centers' grant funding by $5 million for fiscal year 2010. Hammond shared some of the centers' legislative policy Thursday night, saying the centers must follow a state mandate to serve everyone who walks through the centers' doors, regardless of their ability to pay.

"We are asking that you not only protect the CMHC grant funding from any further cuts, but also to restore the balance of those funds, $8.8 million in FY 2010, which would allow the CMHCs to maintain full funding of their current grants and contracts to provide services for the non-Medicaid population...," the policy states.

The statewide mental health system has a budget of about $400 million, Hammond said, and while the state's mandate of serving all who walk through the centers' doors is a good thing, making the system a "safety net" for some, there has to be adequate
funding to meet the increasing need.

However, Hammond said, it appears to be a "bleak outlook" for the state's upcoming budget and revenue collection. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius asked for a 2 percent cut of agencies to help with the revenue loss, and upped the request for a 3 percent cut.

While Hammond would like to see the $8.8 million restored to the grant funding, he looks for the association and centers to be lucky just to hold onto what they already
have. So it's important, he said, to make sure every one of the state's elected officials is educated on mental illness and services offered throughout the state so when it comes time to vote, they can make an informed decision.

Morris told the group that while the state may be headed into a tough budget year, he feels there's widespread support in the Kansas Legislature on the issue of mental illness.

Despite a bleak picture being painted by the press of the state's revenue and upcoming budgeting process, Morris said he feels the state's economy is doing fairly well, being based on the three pillars of manufacturing (with an emphasis in aircraft), agriculture and oil and gas. Morris said the media's coverage of the economy and revenue shortfalls has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, adding that as there's more coverage and talk of things being bad, they continue to worsen.

Among the other issues, including Sunflower Electric Power Corp.'s planned expansion, a comprehensive energy policy and another statewide comprehensive transportation program, Morris said he and others in the Legislature will do everything they can to maintain "status quo" for the mental health system -- that might be the best possible scenario under the budget picture right now, he said.

Finney County Commissioners cut about $1.13 million -- or about 2.3 mills -- from the county's proposed budget for 2009. While many of the county departments' proposed budgets stayed as requested, commissioners cut outside agencies, including area mental health, by about 4 percent of the amount estimated to be spent this year. Commissioner Cliff Mayo made a motion to fund the agencies at the current level, which would have added roughly $100,000. That motion failed.

Mayo told the group the area mental health center is one of the county's "best-kept secrets," telling them he's going to take back with him informational booklets to his fellow commissioners. The cuts were a product of a tight budget year, he said, but also from a lack of understanding on the commission's part of all the services area mental health provides.

"We try to support it as best we can," he said.

But, Mayo told Dalke, if the center could "toot (its) horn a little more" so commissioners were better informed of the center, that could help.