Governor Matt Blunt’s Fiscal Year 2006 budget recommendations would slash nearly $41 million from the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s general revenue for community treatment and rehabilitation services. Psychiatric services and alcohol and drug treatment programs would lose an additional $20 million in federal funds because of the reduction in state matching funds. An additional $24 million in federal funds for mental retardation and developmental disability services would be lost. Thousands of Missouri’s citizens would be affected by this $85 million loss in funding.
Cindi Keele, executive director of the Missouri chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI of Missouri), said, “In times of economic downturn, it is critically important for Missouri to protect both the mental health system and those who need Medicaid mental health services. I shudder to think how these cuts will affect thousands of Missouri’s families, already suffering from disabilities, many of whom are terrified and calling our office for help.”
Department of Mental Health officials estimate that 13,620 adults with serious mental illnesses and 600 children with serious emotional disorders will lose access to psychiatric services, and 11,050 will not receive substance abuse treatment services. An additional 5,800 Medicaid-eligible patients will no longer receive some services necessary for their continued treatment. The proposed Medicaid changes would negatively impact 24,000 people who currently receive mental retardation and developmental disability services.
Loss of federal funds will eliminate suicide prevention programs which have been instrumental in reducing Missouri’s suicide rate. Persons with a serious mental illness who are unable to access care and medications will suffer recurrent episodes of acute symptoms. Emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and law enforcement involvement will increase.
Nearly half of Missourians receiving substance abuse treatment services are referred from the criminal justice system. With the proposed budget cuts, community-based psychiatric services will no longer be available to half of the court-referred clients, who have committed crimes and are on conditional release.
People with serious mental illnesses will use some form of services—whether early and effective community services or high-cost institutional placements. As reported in a Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law brief, mental health cuts in Oklahoma cost the state several million dollars a year in more expensive crisis center services. Cuts of $23 million in South Carolina left people waiting for days in emergency rooms or jails for more appropriate placements.
Jim House, chair of the Federation of Missouri Advocates for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said, “I call on Governor Blunt to change his budget priorities. Governor Blunt looks to Thomas Jefferson for wisdom. Jefferson said, ‘The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate object of good government.’ Governor Blunt, please don’t balance the state’s budget on the backs of the poor and disabled. Don’t abandon Missouri’s most fragile citizens.”