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Budget Cuts Would Reduce Mental Health Care

March 1, 2002
By: Kathryn Handley
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Karren Jones says she suffers from dissassociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), post traumatic stress syndrome and depression. She has received services from the state Mental Health Department for over 10 years. Like 36,000 other mentally-ill Missourians, she would be denied those services under Gov. Bob Holden's budget proposal.

If the proposed budget cuts are approved, Jones will no longer be able to afford her medication that on some months runs as much as $2,000.

"You'd have to choose between your rent or your medications or your food," she said."I'm just scared to death right now."

The governor has proposed a 15 percent, or $107.8 million, cut to the Department of Mental Health's spending of $698.3 million last year.

The Department of Health and Senior Services' budget would actually increase by about $9 million next fiscal year. But much of the department's spending is tied to federal programs such as Medicaid. The department's general revenue fund would decrease by 30 percent, from last year's $103.8 million to $72.7 million.

If use of the rainy day fund, a reserve fund for times of emergency, were authorized by a two-thirds vote of the Missouri legislature, the cut to the Department of Mental Health would only be $15.6 million. The Health Department funds would not be cut at all; it would receive an additional $2.8 million.

The Mental Health Department serves people with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities and substance abuse problems. The Health Department deals with services such as home-delivered meals to the elderly and investigations of childcare facilities and nursing homes.

Both departments say they are prepared for the worst.

"We're still hoping that these won't happen," said Jeanne Henry, the Mental Health Department's public affairs director. "No one, including the governor, wants to see the cuts go through," she said.

Both departments have made detailed outlines showing where each dollar would be trimmed.

Under the budget cuts, nearly 6,000 children and more than 30,000 adults would be denied services they receive from the Division of Psychiatric Services.

Henry said many parents of children who receive at-home treatment would be left with an unpleasant choice: Put their child in an institution or end treatment.

The department's Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse funds 80 percent of substance-abuse treatment programs. If the proposed budget were approved, substance-abuse services would not be provided to nearly 30,000 people, and 75 percent of Missouri's substance-abuse treatment-service system would be closed.

"If no money is brought to the table, we have no choice but to go through with the cuts," she said.

Henry said the department is informing people who receive services that they may be terminated.

Budget cuts to the Department of Health and Senior Services would result in 286 women and children not receiving coupons for fruits and vegetables. State funding would be eliminated for home-delivered meals, which serve more than 1,000 people.

"It's going to be a ripple effect," said Timothy Dawson, Jefferson City president of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. "Somebody's going to pay."