Mental Health Care System Works Through Budget Cuts

7 years 2 months 3 weeks ago Monday, September 20 2010 Sep 20, 2010 Monday, September 20, 2010 3:30:25 PM CDT September 20, 2010 in News
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JEFFERSON CITY - As the recession continues, the state's mental health care community is trying to make sure some of Missouri's most vulnerable will not be left behind.

According to the state, more than 1.1 million Missourians will suffer from some type of mental disorder this year. Many of the people who have those illnesses, which can range anywhere from depression to schizophrenia, depend on the state for care.

As a result of the recession, however, those patients have seen some of their services reduced.

In June, Governor Jay Nixon made a number of cuts to Missouri's mental health care system in an effort to close the state's budget deficit.

The Department of Mental Health Facilities lost $3.6 million, the Department of Mental Health Transition lost $2.4 million and mental health regional offices around the state lost $600,000 among other cuts.

NAMI: MO. MENTAL HEALTH GETS "C" GRADE

Cynthia Keele works as the executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) Missouri division. She said it is hard for her organization not to be in a state of panic over mental health care in Missouri.

"We have seen a huge increase in the number of people coming to us for help since these cuts were made," Keele said. "Where we're really concerned is with the local mental health centers."

In 2009, NAMI graded all of the states on the quality of their public mental health care system. In its report, NAMI dealt Missouri a C grade.

The organization said the state needed to address its growing uninsured population, focus on putting "beds in hospitals" and create more housing and community supports for the mentally ill.

While the grade was higher than the nationwide average of a D, Keele said the grade could have been lower. The Department of Mental Health said it was happy the state received a grade higher than the national average.

"It [the report] helps the public in general learn more about mental health, our challenges, and our opportunities," said Virginia Selleck, director of the Office of Transformation with the Department of Mental Health.

She pointed out, however, the state is always looking to improve.  Selleck said since the grade was published, Missouri providers have made strides in the field of evidence-based practice.

MID-MO. SEES INCREASE IN HOMELESS

But, the state still has challenges.

Dr. David Wallace runs the University of Missouri Counseling Center, an institution that assists in improving the psychological wellbeing of students and staff at the school.

Wallace said the state of the economy can affect the mental wellness of Missourians suffering from its harsh consequences.

"If I have a student who comes in for instance whose family has been suffering because of loss of jobs, trouble in school, and trying to work and all of those tensions can really contribute to more significant problems in their lives," Wallace said.

One way the recession has particularly hurt the mentally disabled has been in the housing sector.

Twice a year, volunteers in conjunction with the Missouri Housing Development Commission and the Missouri Association for Social Welfare team up to identify all unsheltered persons in 101 of the state's 104 counties.

The survey identifies Mid-Missouri as Region 5. It consists of Howard, Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Montgomery, Cooper, Moniteau, Cole, Osage, Gasconade, Morgan, Miller, Maries, Camden, Pulaski and Phelps counties.

In the winter of 2009, Mid-Missouri had 384 people who either lived on the streets or in homeless shelters. A year later, that number increased to 492 people.

Among those figures, however, there was a significant increase in the number of mentally and physically disabled people who ended up living in the region's homeless shelters.

In the winter of 2009, there were 128 mentally or physically disabled people in Mid-Missouri's homeless shelters. In the winter of 2010, that number increased to 191 people.

The Salvation Army Harbor House in Columbia provides shelter for people who are homeless in the area. Sometimes the shelter also takes in people who are suffering from mental disorders.

Harbor House Director James Chapman said such patients come in with a variety of illnesses.

"Those problems run from serious to mild post traumatic stress disorder all the way up to schizophrenia," Chapman said.

He said caring for people who are mentally ill provides a different set of challenges for his homeless shelter.

"One of the things were looking for when people come in, and were doing it for the safety of everyone who comes in here, is how willing are they to work to help themselves," Chapman said.

But sometimes, as Chapman points out, some people opt not to take their medicine and treat their illness. He said they often end up back out on the streets.

IMPROVEMENT ON THE WAY

Since NAMI's grading of the states in 2009, the organization has continued to keep an eye on the actions of Missouri's politicians.

"The governor's been pretty good to us, but our state lawmakers don?t see mental health as a priority in their state and I think that is real unfortunate," Keele said.

The Department of Mental Health holds the same sentiment.

"I don't think anyone who is a public official doesn't care," Selleck said. "I don't believe that. It think it is more likely people are uninformed about the needs and really may not know what the needs are of people with mental illness."

One public official who has paid special attention to the troubles facing the state's mentally ill is Missouri state treasurer Clint Zweifel.

In August, Zweifel announced plans to reallocate $127 million in state and federal funds toward creating 400 specialized homes for the mentally disabled.

In the meantime, however, the state's mental health community is eager for more immediate fortunes as the country tries to pull itself out of dark economic times.

"My hope is there will be a turnaround there that will help us move this back to something more supportive for people who are struggling with just the needs of their lives," Wallace said.

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