Kansas Budget Cuts ‘Devastating’ Mental Health System, Providers Say

Jul 7, 2016

Gov. Sam Brownback and Republican legislative leaders have blocked consideration of Medicaid expansion, which could help restore funding for community mental health centers, according to one mental health official.
Credit File photo

Kansas community mental health centers are sending a distress signal to state policymakers.

The association that represents the state’s 26 community mental health centers issued a statement Wednesday expressing “strong concerns” about the $30 million in funding cuts that it says its members have suffered in the past 12 months.

“The community mental health centers have taken one devastating hit after another over the last year,” said Kyle Kessler, executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas Inc.

In addition to the 4 percent cut in Medicaid reimbursement rates ordered by Gov. Sam Brownback that took effect last week, Kessler said the elimination of two programs hit mental health centers hard.

Objections from federal officials led to the repeal of a state requirement that community mental health centers screen Kansans seeking admission to the state’s two mental health hospitals. Subsequently, a state decision to end a “health homes” pilot program cost centers that had staffed up to participate in it.

State officials said the pilot program, which was aimed at improving the coordination of care for Kansans with both mental illness and chronic medical conditions, was discontinued because it wasn’t meeting its health improvement objectives. Supporters said the program wasn’t given enough time to work and blamed the state’s ongoing budget problems for the decision to end it.

The federal government initially paid 90 percent of the pilot program’s cost. But starting this year, the state’s share of the cost would have increased by $13.4 million a year.

In its statement, the mental health association said the “reduction in treatment staff” forced by the series of budget cuts will increase the pressure on local law enforcement agencies and the state’s already overburdened mental health hospitals.

“The message that people need to hear is that budget and policy decisions have consequences,” said Mike Garrett, CEO of Horizons Mental Health Center in Hutchinson.

State officials should consider expanding eligibility for KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, as a way to help restore funding to community mental health centers, Garrett said.

Brownback and Republican legislative leaders have blocked consideration of expansion for the past three years, arguing that it would be too expensive. They also have said that it would be unfair to extend KanCare coverage to poor but non-disabled adults until the state can afford to provide support services to thousands of Kansans with physical and developmental disabilities on waiting lists.

Tim DeWeese, executive director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center, said inadequate funding for the past six years and the state’s rejection of KanCare expansion have significantly reduced the capacity of a mental health system that once was among the nation’s best.

“Over the last several years it’s seemed to me that we have had a slow dismantling of the mental health system across Kansas,” DeWeese said.

Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, declined to comment on the centers’ funding concerns but said the agency has “enormous respect for its community mental health center partners across the state and does all it can to support them.”

Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.