Patrick Richardson

Managing Editor

Under a plan currently being debated by the Kansas Legislature, Community Mental Health Centers in Kansas, such as Spring River Mental Health and Wellness, are looking at deep cuts in state funding.

The cuts involve several state-funded programs including the state grant funds which were earmarked to pay for services for the uninsured and underinsured.

Member Services Coordinator for the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas Sheli Sweeney said in a telephone interview Thursday, the funds have been pared down for the last three years and Governor Sam Brownback is asking the legislature to cut them entirely for the 2012 budget, which would take effect July 1.

“Over the last three years they’ve cut 65 percent of state grant funding used for uninsured and underinsured patients,” Sweeney said. “Brownback wants to zero it out.”

Sweeney acknowledged the financial problems facing the state, Kansas has a budget shortfall of around a half-billion dollars, but noted these cuts would actually end up costing the state more than the roughly $10 million budgeted for 2011 and the approximately $20 million cut from the program over the last three years.

Figures provided to the Advocate by Sweeney say it costs $428 per day to treat someone at state-run psychiatric hospital, $257 per day at a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility, about $80 per day for someone to be incarcerated at Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility, an average of $22 per day to treat chronically mentally ill Medicaid member at a CMHC and roughly $10 per day average to treat Medicaid mental health consumer at a CMHC.

State Rep. Doug Gatewood, (D-Columbus), said Brownback is hoping to make up the difference with federal Medicaid funds.

“Governor Brownback, his way of thinking is Medicaid dollars would make up the difference,” Gatewood said. “I don’t think it would.”

Sweeney concurred.

“You cannot use Medicaid dollars for a non-Medicaid person,” Sweeney said, adding that Medicaid also does not reimburse very well.

“Medicaid is the lowest reimbursment of any insurance (and) … in many cases doesn’t even cover costs.”

Melissa Cromwell, public relations specialist at Spring River Mental Health and Wellness Center in Riverton said CMHCs have already taken major budget cuts the last three years and Spring River has so far managed to avoid cutting services.

“Right now we’re dealing with the situation,” she said, but noted the cuts which have already come down this year will begin to affect patients.

She said in the past they’ve managed to keep funding cuts from affecting clients.

“They’ve made the cuts where we can only see clients a certain number of times,” Cromwell said. “The cuts that will possibly be coming down, well we’re working on a plan.”

According to Gatewood, who opposes the cuts, the clients currently served by the grant funds will likely end up elsewhere.

“They may end up somewhere else in the system and the results may be vastly more costly,” he said.

According to Sweeney the cuts are penny-wise and pound foolish.

“There is nothing less expensive than community-based services,” she said.

She said the cuts would tax the already over-burdened state mental hospitals, which are also facing budget cuts.

“Eighty percent of the time they’re over capacity and would have less staff to deal with patients,” Sweeney said.

Cromwell said it would strain Spring River as well, if perhaps not as much as other CMHCs.

“Last month we served more people in the county than we’ve ever had in the 30 years we’ve been in business,” she said.

She said like other CMHCs in the state they are required to treat anyone who walks through the doors regardless of ability to pay.

“Being in the second poorest county in the state the majority of our patients have a medical card,” Cromwell said, adding they will not turn any one away. “We may not be able to offer the full range of services, but we will still see them.

“We’re just doing the best we can do not to interrupt services.”

The financial year 2012 budget bill has yet to pass the legislature and according to Gatewood is still in conference. He said the House version of the bill restored some of the funding Brownback wanted cut.”