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Archive for Sunday, January 14, 1990

BUDGET CUTS WORRY LOCAL MENTALLY ILL

January 14, 1990

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The elimination of funding for one part of the state's medical welfare system will have a devastating effect on the mentally ill in Lawrence, said a local mental health professional.

Dalenette Creamer, coordinator of the community support program for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence, who works with mental health patients daily, said the loss MediKan benefits will mean the majority of the 46 Bert Nash clients on the program will no longer be able to afford needed medication such as anti-psychotic and anti-depressant drugs.

Without the drugs, she added, "you would see them act out their behavior. It would affect the community and their families. They would end up getting into trouble or secluding themselves in their rooms and becoming a danger to themselves."

Many, she said, will eventually need to be hospitalized after they stop taking medication.

THE MEDIKAN cut was ordered Jan. 1, but a Sedgwick County judge's restraining order temporarily halted the program's elimination. A hearing on the order is set for Jan. 19.

General Assistance, another welfare program providing cash grants to income-eligible Kansans, is also scheduled to be eliminated Feb. 1. Most people on MediKan also recieve General Assistance.

Some of the Bert Nash clients who will lose MediKan and General Assistance when the directives are carried out discussed their dependence upon those benefits. The clients asked that their last names not be used.

MARY, 49, SAID she uses MediKan to buy prescribed anti-depressant drugs. She said she has been diagnosed as chronic depressive.

"Without medication and the center's help, I'd be in the hospital," she said. "I've never been to Topeka State Hospital (Kansas State Hospital in Topeka) and I don't want to go. I've heard too many stories."

Mary said she lives in federally subsidized housing. But she said she also needs the monthly General Assistance check to pay her bills.

Another Bert Nash client, Jim, 33, said he has been able to wean himself away from prescribed drugs and remain stable. But because he has been off work for two years because of mental problems, he fears the loss of the General Assistance that he uses to pay rent.

"It's got all of us scared to death," he said. "I'm no longer on medication, but I'm having some medical tests done," he said. "I had a seizure. It may require medication.

"When I get done paying my rent, I have $10 left. They just suddenly decided, with two or three weeks notice, to cut General Assistance. I feel I'm doing my best to get off assistance, and to cut it off suddenly is really going to effect me."

ERNIE DYER, supervisor of the income maintenance section of the Lawrence office of the Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services, said the General Assistance and MediKan cuts will affect about 145 people in Lawrence and Douglas County. He said most General Assistance checks are for $219 a month per household in Douglas County.

In a press conference prior to the opening of the 1990 Legislature last week, Gov. Mike Hayden suggested that many who will lose assistance from Kansas welfare programs can get help through the Social Security Administration's Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

But Dyer said many on MediKan are waiting to see if they will be approved for SSI, a program that is difficult and time-consuming to qualify for.

"If they can get on SSI, they'll be OK," he said. "I'm not sure how they live until they get it.

"And a large percentage of them are also mentally ill," he added. "Many of those individuals, as long as they take medication, are not eligible for SSI."

NORMAN FRANKER, manager of the Lawrence Social Security Administration office serving Douglas and Jefferson counties, confirmed that it is difficult to be approved for the SSI program. He said two out of three people who apply for SSI are rejected.

During December, for example, Franker said 743 people across the state applied for SSI, and 503 of them were rejected.

But "a significant number" of those who are rejected for SSI are not able to return to work, Franker said.

The reason for the high percentage of rejections, he said, was that the agency has a "pretty severe" definition of disability, which must be backed up by information from physicians and often with an examination by the agency's own doctors.

And if it is determined that a disability will not last at least 12 months, the application is rejected, he added. Franker also said there is a 60- to 90-day waiting period to determine eligibility.

CREAMER SAID the people who use the MediKan program are either in transition from places like the state mental hospital and have applied for federal programs but have not yet been approved or they are "the marginal people" who can work a few hours a week but not hold a full-time job.

Those jobs, she said, do not give them enough money to buy medication or to pay out of pocket for mental health services.

"Pharmacies can't give away medication, but without medication, most of our clients will end back up in the state hospital, which would cost a lot more," she said.

Creamer also said the mental health center is mandated to provide services to those in need. Even without MediKan, Bert Nash will continue to offer the mentally ill counseling and other services.

She added, however, that without MediKan payments from patients who cannot afford to pay the center for services, she does not know how the agency will be able to continue to function.

ANOTHER BERT Nash client on MediKan, 35-year-old Kim, said he was diagnosed a manic-depressive more than 10 years ago. But despite that, he said he has been turned down for help from SSI.

"There are jobs available, but if you take a job, you're cut off assistance," he said. "Without that money and without medication, you fight an uphill battle just to be normal.

"And a lot of times, employers find out you're a manic-depressive, they throw the application in the trash can because their insurance will go up," he said.

"Mental illnesses aren't planned. You don't even know you're getting sick. We need to concentrate on ourselves; concentrate on getting better instead of concentrating on society cutting us off."

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