Some legislative incumbents and candidates act as if the governor’s budget-balancing is just responsible fiscal management, without pain or other consequences. Those on the front line of community mental health in Kansas have a different view.
“The community mental health centers have taken one devastating hit after another over the last year,” Kyle Kessler, executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, said in a statement last week.
The group, which represents 26 centers in the state, estimates a $30 million loss of funding statewide for the new fiscal year. Sedgwick County’s Comcare is implementing strategies to deal with a revenue decrease of about $3.5 million.
The Brownback administration’s 4 percent cut to Medicaid reimbursements as of July 1 is among the causes for concern. But the state also ended a short-lived “health homes” pilot program that had coordinated care for some mentally ill people with chronic medical problems, and a Medicaid mental health screening program (objected to by federal officials) that aimed to guide some patients into community-based rather than inpatient treatment.
The association warned that “the reduction in treatment and staff will result in more state mental health hospital admissions, emergency room visits and quite likely in more interaction with law enforcement.” Comments from some center leaders underscore the seriousness:
▪ “Over the last several years it’s seemed to me that we have had a slow dismantling of the mental health system across Kansas,” Tim DeWeese, executive director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center, told the Kansas Health Institute News Service.
▪ “We need to look at restoring some of the cuts to mental health centers that have taken place over the last decade, whether that is restoring mental health reform contract funding or expanding treatment to persons through expanding Medicaid,” Mike Garrett, CEO of Horizons Mental Health Center in Hutchinson, said in the association’s statement.
▪ “We’ve eliminated some positions, and we’ve realigned other staff. This is a real penny-wise, pound-foolish situation,” Dave Johnson, CEO of Lawrence’s Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, which is losing more than $1 million in Medicaid funding, told the Lawrence Journal-World.
Other problems with the state’s mental health safety net have been well-documented in recent years. Those include the wait time for admittance and the loss of federal Medicare certification over safety problems at Osawatomie State Hospital and the understaffing at Larned State Hospital.
State and local policymakers – and voters – should heed the association’s call to examine the ramifications of funding cuts to their community mental health systems, and especially to the seriously mentally ill Kansans they serve.