Editorial: Human costs

Shortsighted service cuts for the state’s most vulnerable residents will cost the state in both humanitarian and fiscal terms.

State budget cuts are more than numbers on a ledger, and several recent news reports are giving Kansans a better idea of the human costs of ongoing state revenue shortfalls and the cuts that come with them.

Last month, Gov. Sam Brownback’s office announced that it would slice $2.1 million in funding — a 30 percent reduction — for in-home services offered to Kansas seniors through the Kansas Senior Care Act. Letters were sent to 1,300 seniors whose services might be reduced as a result of the cuts. Some of those people may be receiving services for as little as a few hours a week to help them with laundry, shopping or cleaning, but, without that little bit of help, they may not be able to continue to live independently in their own homes. If they are forced to move to nursing homes, it is a personal loss of freedom for the individuals as well as a financial loss for the state, which will pay much, much more for their nursing home care.

Last week, the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas estimated that state cuts have left a $30 million hole in mental health funding across the state. The local Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center alone has seen a $1 million reduction in its state funding in the last year.

The state has eliminated the health homes program that helped coordinate care and the Medicaid mental health screening program that helped divert patients from inpatient care by placing them into more appropriate — and, again, less expensive — community-based programs. The across-the-board 4 percent cut in Medicaid reimbursement rates also has hurt community mental health facilities and other health care providers across the state. Mental health officials predict the net result of these cuts will be more demand for admissions to the state’s already stressed mental health hospitals, as well as increased emergency room visits and law enforcement interaction for people with mental health challenges.

And finally, a Your Turn column on this page tells of how cuts and changes in state payments will force the local Cottonwood Inc. to curtail some important services for its clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The agency estimates that 40 local clients will be directly impacted by losing their access to around-the-clock, on-call support that helps them live more independently.

When announcing the in-home care cuts for seniors, state officials said they didn’t expect anyone to be forced out of their homes because family members or charitable groups would step in to fill the service gaps. They may have the same expectations for people with developmental disabilities or mental health needs, but there’s no way to know whether those expectations will be met. If they aren’t, and people don’t receive the support services they need, the cost of caring for them in nursing homes, hospitals or jails likely will far exceed the cost of the support programs that have been cut.

It’s not only inhumane, it’s a bad financial strategy for the state, but it’s the choice that’s been made by state officials who would rather cut services to Kansans in need than consider restoring income taxes for thousands of Kansas businesses.