Mental Health Agencies brace for more tough times

By Sheri Falk - bio | email | Twitter

 Hattiesburg, MS (WDAM) -Budgets are being slashed in every agency across the state as the legislature prepares for another year of pinching pennies. Pine Belt Mental Health is in a money crunch and South Mississippi State Hospital is taking on more patients even though it's future is up in the air.

Patient assistance programs and medications which help thousands of mentally ill Mississippians could be in jeopardy.

Executive Director of Pine Belt Mental Health Jerry Mayo stated "the issue is around the loss of state grant funds to community mental health centers and there is 15 in the state. It will impact us differently based on how we use those funds."

A total of  $4.1 million in grant funds will not be renewed. Pine Belt Mental Health, which serves nine counties, will have $450,000 less to work with.

" Historically the mental health center has been funded largely by medicaid .These funds help serve individuals that didn't have medicaid or another payer in some instances medicare. So, you really have less resources to provide services and everything costs money. Somebody has to pay for it or it's not delivered."

For the fiscal year 2012, The Department of Mental Health will be expected to pay a medicaid match of  around $20 million. This coupled with the loss of the enhanced federal share of medicaid marks an additional $37 million that DMH needs to maintain the current level of mental health services. If that funding is not approved, South Mississippi State Hospital in Purvis is one of four institutions  patients may no longer have.

Director Wynona Winfield says, "we are very cautiously optimistic about that and I think that the Department of Mental Health master agency is also very cautiously optimistic. We really have to continue with our services regardless of what the budgetary situation is going to be."

In fact,  the hospital which already  serves nine counties has taken on four more. Which will give them another 265 patients a year.

"We are going to be serving people from Hancock, Harrison, stone and pearl river counties."

Patients who would be sent to facilities in North Mississippi can now remain closer to family and other forms of support while in treatment and recovery.

Both Mayo and Winfield said, their facilities work hand in hand just in different settings. They  hope legislators push the importance of maintaining proper mental health care in the state.

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