Kansans understand that the state is facing a difficult budget year, but even in a tough year, some cuts just don’t make sense.
Eliminating more than $15 million in funding to community mental health centers in Kansas is one of those cuts.
The state’s largest mental health fund already had been slashed by 65 percent ($20 million) between 2008 and 2010. Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget “saves” the state $10.2 million by completely eliminating the state aid fund for community mental health centers. The fund is the only one that covers costs for people who cannot afford to pay for services. It also is the only fund that helps community mental health centers cover the costs of crisis care and other services not covered by Medicaid.
In addition, the Brownback budget eliminates $5 million in funding from the state’s tobacco settlement for the Family Centered System of Care, a program that supports children receiving mental health care by coordinating those services with families, courts and other service providers. The funding increases both the efficiency and effectiveness of those services, according to community mental health leaders.
One of those leaders is David Johnson, CEO of the local Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. Johnson said this week that the cuts included in Brownback’s budget would cost Bert Nash about $372,000. That’s a devastating hit for Douglas County that will be multiplied across the state.
The greater hit, however, is the trickle down effect of reduced mental health services. More than half the inmates in the Douglas County Jail receive mental health services. Too often, jail becomes the last resort for people who don’t receive proper treatment for chronic mental illness. Many members of the homeless population in Lawrence and across the state also have mental health issues. A reduction in community mental health funding and services permeates schools, work places, hospitals and a variety of social services agencies.
The inability of people to access the mental health services they need has a profound impact on both the health and safety of the state. The costs of supporting community mental health services pale by comparison with the costs to society of not providing that care: prisons, lost work productivity, family breakdowns, school failures.
The state of Kansas closed mental hospitals in the 1980s and ’90s with the promise that people who were being treated there would receive even better services from community-based agencies. Recent funding cuts, and the proposed additional cuts, for those community centers not only endanger the state’s ability to keep that promise; they eliminate services that could ward off problems that are much more costly to the state.
Legislators must consider the long-term costs of this short-term budget fix.