Mental health budget cuts ‘devastating’

Published 12:07 am Thursday, April 23, 2015

SCAMH programs would be sliced

South Central Alabama Mental Health (SCAMH) would be forced to cut services to 559 children and 2,615 adults if proposed state budget cuts are approved by the Alabama legislature. More than 40 staff members would lose their jobs.

Devastating is the word SCAMH Executive Director Diane Baugher used to describe the proposed cuts.

According to a letter written by Gov. Robert Bentley, the proposed $35.2 million in cuts to the Department of Mental Health, would have a $99 million impact, as the state would lose more than $64 million in federal matching funds.

“Any type of budget cut is going to be devastating to mental illness programs,” Baugher said.

South Central Alabama Mental Health (SCAMH) provides mental health services for residents in Butler, Crenshaw, Covington and Coffee Counties.

Baugher said in her letter that even a budget reduction of 1 percent would result in closing day habilitation programs. Day habilitation programs are those that provide long-term personal and social development opportunities within a structured environment for individuals with developmental disabilities who are unable to function independently in social, recreational or employment settings. Services include hourly or daily offerings.

“We are holding on by a thread now and cannot sustain additional cuts,” she said. “Any cut will result in the loss of 18 jobs due to the closure of these programs.”

Waiver clients – developmentally disabled clients for whom Medicaid provides funding – will no longer have a day program to attend, she said.

In our state, waiver clients are put on a waiting list and have to wait for an open slot to receive Medicaid services, Baugher said.

“Waiver individuals will now be home bound with family members, in residential homes or will need to seek services at programs many miles away, creating hardships on both the individuals and their family members,” Baugher said.

Baugher said other services, including housing mentally ill adults, the contract dollars used to assist with emergency medication and the local economies would suffer due to the elimination of jobs.

Baugher said the predicted outcome of the loss of services is an increase in behavior issues by those currently receiving mental health services, and an increased demand in response from law enforcement.