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05-28-03: Mental health funding hinges on state budget

The Daily Standard
    VAN WERT - Local mental health and alcohol and drug addiction treatment providers in Mercer, Van Wert and Paulding counties are facing stagnant revenue through the local funding network for the fourth straight year.
    That is the best-case scenario for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, Tri County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Director Keith Turvy told board members meeting Tuesday. Exact funding amounts will not be determined until the the state budget is sorted out for the next biennium that also begins July 1, he said.
    Board members approved contracts with area service providers but the numbers remain tentative.
    "It's deja' vu," Turvy said. "We're doing the same thing we were doing with the budget a year ago."
    Board members approved a $5.1 million budget that calls for a $57,000 deficit to be covered by a cash reserve that also was tapped this year. The stagnant state revenue is affecting the availability of services to Tri County residents, Turvy and the director of a local agency said.
    Tentative mental health service contracts were approved Tuesday for Foundations ($721,213), Westwood Behavioral Health Center in Van Wert ($758,296), Paulding County Mental Health Center in Paulding ($321,047) and Gateway Outreach Center in Celina ($254,251). Westwood also received a $198,394 contract for alcohol and drug treatment and The Turning Point in Paulding received a $133,961 contract for the same thing.
    Employee health care and wage expenses have risen annually, but local agencies likely will get the same amount of state funding through Tri County that they received in 2001, Turvy said.
    "That is chewing into services dollars," Turvy said.
    Brian Engle, director of Foundations Behavioral Health Center in Celina, said that agency officials have been able to offset some of the rising costs by securing other grant money, but also said the demand for services "continues to go through the roof."
    Case loads at Foundations have risen from 550 to 760 in the past eight years, Engle said. Agency officials see an average of 60-65 new cases per month, he said, while 35-40 was a more typical number a few years ago. The rising caseloads and stagnant income has resulted in new clients waiting two weeks or more for their first contact with a counselor, he said.
    "That's a long time to wait when you've made a major decision like that to make that call," Engle said.
    Foundations officials also are trying to maximize Medicaid funding to serve the most people.
    "We're really milking the Medicaid cow as much as we can," through loosened Medicaid eligibility guidelines, Engle said.
    But Medicaid's uncontrolled growth threaten the integrity of the community mental health network, Turvy said.
    "If the entitlement runs on, it will become a Medicaid-only system with the resurrection of state institutional hospitals," Turvy said. "The community safety net is beginning to unravel."
    Turvy praised the board and the professional service providers for their ability to withstand years of no financial growth.
    A budget reserve account the board established several years ago has been key to navigating the fiscal problems of the past couple of years. If state funding comes through as expected, the board will drain the account by another $57,000 in the next budget year, reducing the fiscal cushion to about $300,000.
    Fiscal Officer Sandy Goodwin said state officials have indicated they expect to keep mental health and drug and alcohol addiction money frozen in the next budget. If they unexpectedly cut the available funding, though, the effects would ripple through the local system, Tri County officials said.
    A 5 percent cut in funding, for example, would zap $125,000 from the Tri County budget reserve if Tri County officials decided to keep provider contracts frozen at current levels.
    "We're very fortunate we have that reserve account," Turvy said.


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