Monday, March 30, 2009

Budget cuts threaten mental health services in S.C.

From intro to a story in the Independent Mail in Anderson, S.C.. In the picture, to save money, Harris Psychiatric Hospital turns off the lights in rooms not in use.

Gail Yeatman fears that possible future cuts to the South Carolina Mental Health Department budget could result in her grandchildren not being able to receive the treatment they need from a mental health medical center in Pickens County.

Yeatman, 57, of Easley said she is impressed with the services at the center, and she was disappointed to hear about the cuts to the state mental health department budget that began in July 2008. Two mental health care facilities in Upstate South Carolina have taken significant hits as part of those cuts.

“It makes my heart cry,” Yeatman said. “I know how hard it is to get services that are needed with the funding they have now.”

The department’s annual budget has been reduced from $220 million to $182 million since July, and lawmakers are considering more cuts in the future, said Mark Binkley, an attorney for the mental health department. The cuts have created a situation in which employees who leave the department cannot be replaced, and at least 82 positions are vacant now, he said.

The state mental health department will serve 9,100 fewer residents in fiscal year 2009 than the previous year, Binkley said, and the department will serve 15,000 fewer residents with inpatient facilities.

“It is discouraging at times,” he said. “As I often say, a few years ago if somebody called with a problem of access to services, I could make a couple of phone calls and address the problem. Now I just have to apologize.”

Adult admissions into the mental health department’s psychiatric hospitals numbered 1,956 in fiscal year 2008, down from 2,373 the year before, according to department officials. The client satisfaction rate for residents receiving services from the department was 87 percent in fiscal year 2008, according to officials.

The Patrick B. Harris Psychiatric Hospital in Anderson has needed to lower its capacity to 121 patients since July 2008, down from 154, in response to the cuts to the state mental health department budget, said John Fletcher, director of the facility.

The Anderson hospital has suffered a nearly $2.9 million-budget cut since July, which adds up to a 14 percent budget reduction, he said. The $1.7 million in the budget dedicated to medication annually cannot be cut, Fletcher said.

Fletcher also said staff members have not been replaced after they leave, and many positions are vacant. The hospital has been providing services to the Anderson-area community for the past 20 years.

Cost-cutting measures for Patrick B. Harris also include limiting the use of paper clips, lighting and pens and cutting back on travel and cell phone usage, Fletcher said.

AnMed Health Medical Center in Anderson refers patients to Patrick B. Harris after evaluating whether the patients can go home. The reduction in capacity at Patrick B. Harris will result in more patients needing to stay longer in the hospital, which will limit the number of people that can be admitted to the hospital’s emergency room.

“It starts to back up in the emergency room,” Fletcher said.

He also said many employees are worried about whether they will be able to keep their jobs. The majority of the budget is dedicated to the salaries of personnel, Fletcher said.