In the Aug. 14 As I See It, “Budget cuts shortchange mental health services,” Melvina Young makes important points about the tragedy of untreated mental illness, and we appreciate her plea for more mental health resources.
However, we need to correct her statement that “the state has cut the budget for mental health by 35 percent since 2009.” It appears that Ms. Young drew her information from a source that looked at only non-Medicaid funding for adult community mental health services, rather than the entire budget for them.
Much of the “cut” in non-Medicaid funding was simply a shift of funds to other lines of the community mental health budget. In fact, since 2009 state funding for community mental health services has increased by more than 39 percent. Gov. Jay Nixon and the Missouri General Assembly have made substantial investments in mental health care, even following the worst recession in modern history.
Furthermore, Department of Mental Health staff and community mental health centers across the state have worked hard to leverage state general revenue and maximize federal funding during tough financial times. For example, the governor’s recent “Strengthening Mental Health” initiative provided an additional $10 million annual investment in crisis mental health care, law enforcement training and programs for family members of people with mental illness.
That initiative has also placed Missouri among the top states in the country for the number of people trained in Mental Health First Aid. A cornerstone of this initiative has been the placement of 31 community mental health liaisons statewide to work with law enforcement and court personnel to connect people in behavioral health crises to treatment. To date, there have been more than 33,000 contacts between Community Mental Health Liaisons, law enforcement and the courts, with more than 18,000 referrals to mental health services.
On Aug. 11, Nixon met at Swope Health Services in Kansas City with local law enforcement officers and mental health advocates and providers to discuss this ongoing effort to strengthen Missouri’s mental health system to keep police officers, communities and vulnerable citizens safe. And to help provide services to those facing the toughest mental health challenges, the governor and legislature moved forward a bond bill that is now funding construction of a new high security psychiatric facility at Fulton State Hospital, scheduled to open in less than three years.
It should be noted that Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act would have brought a great amount of additional resources for Missourians who need mental health services. Sadly, legislators have yet to take this important step that more than 30 other states have taken.
We applaud Ms. Young for her compassion for people with untreated mental illness, for her efforts to make their plight known and for her call for greater investment in mental health care.
Nonetheless, we also want to acknowledge the strides Missouri has made in mental health funding and successful programs since 2009.
Steve Roling of Kansas City is a member of the Missouri Mental Health Commission. Mark Stringer of Jefferson City is director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health.