Budget crisis hits provider

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January 28, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Editor’s note: This is another in a series of stories examining the impact of state budget cuts on public health agencies serving the Allen County area.

“It’s been affecting everyone,” said Bob Chase of recent state budget cuts.
Chase, executive director of the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center, noted that “as a result of the governor’s cuts, we’ve had to take $300,000 out of our budget as of Jan. 1.”
The agency works on a calendar year.
Chase said the cuts have made things difficult.
“We’d already passed our budget in November, and we took 3 percent out then. We eliminated any pay increases. We had already taken out $100,000  — then things got worse with the next state budget projection.”
The agency also laid off three support service employees before Christmas, left one such position unfilled, and will not replace one of four contracted psychiatrists who recently left to pursue other career options, Chase said.
“It’s going to be a huge impact,” Chase said of the psychiatric service cut. “That’s a critical service.”
Last year, 757 screenings were required for mental health clients.
“That’s the highest we’ve ever had,” noted Doug Wright, director of Crisis Services, “but it’s going up every year.”
The number is rising “because there’s more anxiety and stress for individuals and families,” Chase said. “Our ability to cope is impacted” by the current economic crisis.

SEKMHC SERVES 3,043 clients in Neosho, Linn, Allen, Anderson, Bourbon and Woodson counties. There are seven offices under the umbrella organization.
“Half of our psychiatry is done in Humboldt,” Chase said. “Pittsburg’s Psychiatric Unit is closed. Coffeyville Medical Center is closed.” With the recent loss, Chase said, “new clients won’t be able to be seen.”
Not all services are structured.
“We also do 24/7 emergency services for the six counties,” Chase said. Such service can be critical. “Sometimes we have three crises going at once. This past weekend,” he said, “there were seven crisis assessments.”
Chase said the shortage of psychiatric care “creates more emergencies. If individuals can’t get timely intervention,” their situation is more likely to escalate, resulting in law enforcement involvement or placement at the state mental hospital in Osawatomie.
Another breech to the safety net is in lag time for services. If courts are involved, as they are in cases of involuntary placement to the state hospital, that client must, by law, be given a court hearing within 48 hours of intake, Chase said. But, “they’re cutting the courts, too.”
“We have an unfunded mandate that we have to serve (clients) in a timely fashion, regardless of ability to pay.”
Yet, he noted, “there are no hospitals that will take anybody for free, so (clients are) sent to the state” hospital.
“We’ve been asked (by Greg Valentine, the superintendent of the hospital) not to send people to Osawatomie because they’re over their census — but they have to take them,” Chase explained. The state hospital has 176 beds. As of Sunday, it had 200 patients, Clinical Director John Helton said.
If clients have been picked up by law enforcement due to a crisis situation, “We’ve been asked to keep them in jail, but they should be in the hospital,” Chase continued. As it is, “most of them are released back into the community for outpatient therapy.”
It’s frustrating, Chase admitted.
“The system starts to break down at some point.”

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