Cuts hurt mental health services

State actions reduce services, providers say

Commissioners hear evidence

Carroll County

March 26, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners heard stories yesterday of public mental health providers having to turn away clients, cut youth programs and reduce services because of continuing cuts made to the state's mental health budget.

Spencer Gear, executive director of Granite House, a mental health care provider that serves 1,400 adults, said his agency is turning away up to 10 new clients a week because tougher eligibility criteria have limited state-subsidized services.

Many of those individuals are homeless or have chronic mental illnesses, Gear said.

"There is an enormous amount of people who don't qualify for services," he said.

Service providers across the state reportedly are closing and scaling back services as they face $25 million in cuts to the state's mental health budget.

Recently, the state Mental Health Administration undertook cost-containment measures to close budget deficits.

In one cost-cutting measure, Maryland Health Partners -- the private company that reviews claims and pays reimbursements for the state -- toughened the medical criteria it uses to authorize mental health services.

Martha Rickert, who oversees intensive mental health services for Keystone Services of Maryland, a health care provider in Westminster, said authorization time allowed for providing psychiatric rehabilitation for children have been reduced, in some cases, from four days to one-to-two days.

Keystone Services recently closed its after-school rehabilitation program for children because it was no longer cost-effective, Rickert said.

"State budget cuts cut into our ability to provide community-based services," she said.

Service providers also said the state's underfunded mental health system has not kept pace with increasing demand for services.

State funding for the Carroll County Youth Service Bureau has remained at $112,546 for 10 years, said executive director Lynn Davis. The bureau provides services for adults and children with behavioral and emotional illnesses.

And the state's reimbursement rates to providers have virtually remained the same since 1997, Gear said.

Davis said her agency had to scale back on the number of assessments it could provide for students who have made violent threats against another person.

Because the state slashed the program's budget by $15,000 for the current fiscal year, Davis said the number of assessment slots was reduced from 75 students to 58.

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