MOUNT VERNON — Leadership from the Community Mental Health and Recovery Board of Licking and Knox Counties did not describe an encouraging future for mental health services in Knox County for the Knox County Commissioners on Thursday morning.
“I wish I had good news for you, but I just don’t see that in our future,” the board’s executive director Wendi Williams told the commissioners.
Citing recent cutbacks in the availability of mental health services in the county, Williams said while there was now the capability to do a more comprehensive assessment of the mentally ill following the merger between Moundbuilders Guidance Center and Kraner Behavioral Health last month, cutbacks remain the overwhelming concern.
“Like an emergency room, you’ve got to treat that heart attack, you’ve got to treat the more serious issues,” Williams said comparing emergency medicine to crisis mental health care.
“We’re really down to the bone,” Williams said, questioning how any more cuts could be made in a system already struggling to meet many unmet needs.
“If we have to continue to make reductions, that will negatively affect the community,” Williams said.
Randy Anderson, the chairman of the board of directors for the Community Mental Health and Recovery Board of Licking and Knox Counties, shared Williams’ concerns.
“We have some challenges that are in front of us,” Anderson said. “We tend to be at the mercy of the state funding.”
“We’re dealing with the unknown of last minute extensions and Band-Aid approaches,” Anderson said.
“We’re looking at ways of making our system much more efficient,” he said.
Williams said board mergers are possible, as a way to share costs and free up more money for direct care.
“We are beginning the thought process — can we look at partnering with another board as part of a cost-savings process,” she explained.
Commissioner Alan Stockberger asked if Medicaid and Medicare matching was a big expense for the board.
Williams answered with an emphatic “yes.”
“That’s the largest part of our budget,” she stated. “In the last two years, it has doubled from approximately $2 million to $4 million — the match obligation for the two counties.”
Stockberger also asked if the earlier problems with fiscal officers not handling Medicaid billing appropriately at Moundbuilders had been corrected.
“I think so — yes,” replied Williams. “On the billing side of things they’ve done a lot of work to get things where they need to be.”
“There were years at Moundbuilders where there was a lot of turmoil that we would hear about from various sources,” Stockberger said. “We don’t have that anymore.”
When Williams asked the commissioners if there were any issues they would like the Mental Health and Recovery Board to be made aware of, Commissioner Teresa Bemiller asked Williams and Anderson if they were aware of the increased need for services discussed at a recent Children First Committee meeting.
“With reduced resources and increased demand, it’s going to become the perfect storm,” answered Williams.
What the future holds for mental health funding is anyone’s guess, according to Williams and Anderson. Anderson said the upcoming governor’s race and elections to the state legislature will affect what kind of funding cuts are made.
“We’re dealing with the great unknown,” he said. “The bottom line, as always, is the clients,” Anderson stressed. “The great unknown being the budget and new health care law.”
“We need more community engagement and to get our story out to the community,” Anderson urged.