A Long Road Back To Sanity - States Finally Reversing Cuts to Mental Health

All over the country, governors are finally beginning to propose new mental health services funding in the aftermath of last year’s mass shootings in Aurora and Sandy Hook.

Notes: OH funding is from existing OHT appropriation.
CT funding is bond money, some of which may
be used by non-MHSA providers.
There will be a long road back to policy sanity.  We have to dig ourselves out of the mess caused by $4.6 billion in state mental health cuts over the last few years.  But these governors give us hope that the funding-cut nightmare over which many of them have presided may be finally coming to an end. 

In recent weeks, both Republicans and Democrats have announced new community behavioral health funding initiatives, typically ranging between $5 million and $20 million.  

But support for community mental health services is not universal.  In states with the worst track records in funding mental health services, their governors continue to be sadly out of step with their colleagues across the nation.

In Idaho, which has recently dropped to the bottom of mental health services spending, Governor Butch Otter’s major mental health initiative in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting is for $70 million to construct a 579-bed “secure mental health facility” on the grounds of the state’s prison south of Boise.  That would be considered progressive by late 19th century standards.

At least Otter’s proposing to do something.

Florida has been at or near the bottom of mental health spending for years.  But Governor Rick Scott – whose administration just cut millions more away from community mental health services in October – seems to think that if he just ignores the problem it will go away.  He requested no new dollars for mental health services in his 2014 budget.

But in the rest of the country, the emerging news is much better.  In the last month or so:

According to the Lansing State Journal, MichiganGovernor Rick Snyder said he will seek $5 million in new funding for mental health services to identify young people with mental health needs.  Michigan has cut $124 million from community mental health programs since 2004.

In Missouri, where eighteen months ago Anna Brown’s death in a St. Louis jail after she was refused care in a hospital emergency room drew national attention, Governor Jay Nixon is proposing $10 million in new mental health funding, primarily for a hospital emergency room diversion program.

In Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper, whose state suffered through the Aurora mass shooting last summer, has proposed spending $18.5 million in new funding, including over $10 million for five urgent care centers for people with mental illness and a statewide 24-hour hotline.

In Connecticut, the site of the Sandy Hook massacre, Governor Dan Malloy proposed $20 million in new bond funding to assist community behavioral health providers with infrastructure projects that providers say have either been set aside because of budget cuts or have been draining money needed for direct services.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, saying that he was committed to strengthening the state’s community mental health system, announced his support for an additional $10 million to increase funding to 27 community mental health centers and to establish a regional system of peer support, intensive case management, crisis intervention, and other evidence-based services.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin announced that she will seek $16 million in new mental health services funding - $8 million for existing programs and $8 million for new programs, including early intervention programs for children and a new state-supported mental health crisis center.

And in Ohio, Governor John Kasich reported that he was authorizing the expenditure of $5 million from an Office of Health Transformation discretionary fund to support children’s crisis intervention services.

These represent just a handful of states taking action, but a cross-section as well. 

The reasons the governors made these proposals may vary.  Some governors may be avoiding gun control debates.  Others may still erroneously equate mental illness with violence. 

The mental health funding initiatives the governors are proposing, however, are needed. 

The governors are working to improve community mental health systems.  They are calling for early identification and treatment of mental illnesses in children, adding new crisis intervention services, and addressing other neglected priorities in their own states. 

And while the numbers may pale in comparison to the cuts made in recent years and won’t undo the damage overnight, they are steps in the right direction. 

These steps should be embraced by legislators in their states, and in states with less understanding governors.  

To reach Paul Gionfriddo via email: gionfriddopaul@gmail.com.  Twitter: @pgionfriddo.  Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.gionfriddo.  LinkedIn:  www.linkedin.com/in/paulgionfriddo/

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