Mental health center fighting to save funding
by Dennis Sharkey
Local mental health providers are saying Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to eliminate state aid could lead to a critical situation.
Keith Richard, executive director of The Guidance Center met with county commissioners on Monday to explain the problem.
The Guidance Center, which serves Jefferson, Leavenworth and Atchison counties, is facing a funding crisis in the near future if a plan to eliminate all state aid, or about $10.2 million goes into effect. The local effect would be about $504,000.
Richard said 36 percent of The Guidance Center’s clients are uninsured and the number of clients is growing at a rapid pace.
Since 2001 the center has seen its client base more than double at a rate of about 1,000 new clients each year.
In the last decade overall services have increased from 34,745 to more than 161,732 last year. Youth case management numbers have risen from 5,552 cases in 2001 to 22,373 last year. The summer youth treatment numbers have increased 15 times from 10 years ago. Adult programs have also seen dramatic increases.
Richard said the only funding that has kept pace with the increases has been Medicaid reimbursements that are also shrinking. He said state aid and county aid have been stagnant for about 20 years.
The center is fighting to hang onto the state aid that Brownback is proposing to eliminate. He said the new Kansas Social and Rehabilitative Services (SRS) director doesn’t have a background in mental health or social services.
“Clearly everyone the governor has appointed has a clear direction to support his initiatives that his budget team has put together,” Richard said. “We’re working exclusively with the legislature at this point and not the administration.
“Basically in July we would be out of the business of providing care regardless of ability to pay,” he added.
Through the committee process the legislature has restored about half of the state funding.
First District Commissioner Lynn Luck questioned where Brownback’s budget priorities are.
“So the state just decided that wasn’t a worthwhile service?” Luck asked. “It’s not a priority service?”
Richard said if the center cannot provide services to the mentally ill, the community at large will feel the effects.
“I’m probably going to be coming back more often as we understand the ramifications on not being able to serve the uninsured,” he said. “It’s not like their needs will go away.”
Instead of getting treatment from the center, clients could end up in hospital emergency rooms or local jails. He said those costs are significantly more than treatment. The results could surface in the forms of domestic violence, substance abuse and high school drop outs.
“We’ll keep crisis services in place,” Richard said. “But if you can’t prevent a problem or if you can’t provide longer term care that actually solves problems rather than resolving them, we’ll see more difficulties in our community. We are in the prevention business.”
Richard said the center is also the most effective and efficient way to treat mental health issues.
“The state wants us to do service locally in the communities because it’s less expensive and families can be involved,” Richard said. “And we get better outcomes.”
Richard said the center has seen a large amount of growth in the last decade but the growth has accelerated in the last two years. He said the problem is not just local but centers across the country are seeing increases. The center is increasingly trying to find ways to do more with less.
“We’re sort of bursting at the seams at all three locations,” Richard said.
In other actions:
- The county approved the purchase of new software for the appraiser’s office for about $16,000.
- Commissioners awarded a bridge surface replacement contract to King Construction for more than $335,000. The bridge is located on Ferguson Road north of K-92 Highway. Construction is expected to begin May 1 and will last about two months.
- Commissioners adopted resolutions that transfer funds from the general fund to various accounts for recently approved purchases. A resolution changing the copy fee for county offices was also passed.
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