Hundreds of Tri-City residents who have had mental health crises will no longer have support services beginning this month because of a $600,000 cut in state funding.
Ed Thornbrugh, administrator of the Benton Franklin Department of Human Services, told Benton County commissioners Monday he must start scaling back services immediately to meet a $75,000 per month goal by next June.
"The reductions have been announced," Thornbrugh said. He said state money should be used first for in-patient mental health hospitalization, then crisis and commitment services and lastly residential programs.
Benton and Franklin counties' loss is part of a $1.8 million cut in non-Medicaid funding for 2011 ordered by the state for Greater Columbia Behavioral Health.
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Greater Columbia, which oversees distribution of state money for 11 Eastern Washington counties, is one of 13 networks across the state facing a total of $18.5 million in cuts.
"Our share is $600,000," Thornbrugh said.
The state's cuts order that no state mental health money may be spent to provide out-patient mental health services. State money can be used only for in-patient, crisis and commitment and residential treatment.
People who don't qualify for continued services paid by state money will be given a 30-day notice.
"People (who are acutely mentally ill) will be able to have crisis assistance but there won't be any follow-up," Thornbrugh said. "We must continue to serve those who are ordered by the court to have services, but if there is no crisis, then no," he said.
Not being able to track and monitor people with mental health issues means those people will likely return as a crisis patient, Thornbrugh said. Many of those will end up in jail.
Capt. Steve Keane of the Benton County Sheriff's Department said the reduction in crisis services, especially counseling services, means more people with mental health issues will be brought to the jail.
But Keane added, "People who need mental health treatment and are in jail are not in the best place to obtain that help."
Thornbrugh couldn't say how many people will lose crisis services because of the cuts, but he said there were 3,700 crisis response contacts last year, with 2,400 of them from people who were not covered by Medicaid. Those people are the ones at risk for losing services.
"I expect we'll see the cost shift to the jail system," Thornbrugh said.
Keane agreed. Potentially it "could be huge for us," he said.
"We deal with people all the time through crisis response. We need for crisis to evaluate them. It's going to be a big impact," Keane said.
Thornbrugh said assigning the remaining state money first to in-patient hospitalization increases the funding problem for residential programs such as the Cullum House in Richland, which can accommodate eight people. It also could affect the Transitional Living Program, which has room for 22 people in a grouping of mobile homes the counties own in Pasco.
Thornbrugh said there will be a waiting list, and he warned commissioners that complaints are sure to come.
"This is not a great picture we've got here. Is this all?" said Commissioner Leo Bowman.
Probably not, Thornbrugh said.
"I expect another reduction in the next biennium, and as soon as March we may not have enough money to run the residential programs," he said.
With less state money available for tracking mental health patients' progress, Thornbrugh expects some to return as acute cases. He said that would draw off what little state money remains, leaving little to nothing for the residential programs.