Local Politics

Advocates: Mental health system in state of emergency

Posted October 14, 2009

— Advocates say budget cuts have put the state's mental health system in a state of emergency, and they are asking the governor to call the General Assembly into an emergency special session to fix the problem. (Read the letter.)

"We know that this is a man-made crisis. We know also that it can be fixed," Jennifer Mahan, chairwoman of The Coalition, said Wednesday.

Advocates call on lawmakers for emergency session Advocates call on lawmakers for emergency session

The Coalition is a group of 42 organizations that advocate and provide services and support for nearly 340,000 people in the state with developmental disabilities, mental illnesses and addictive diseases.

The group estimates that critical services to these patients will be cut by more than 25 percent and that anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 employees who provide those services will lose their jobs.

"We have to come together as a state and all stand ready to pitch in, and we ask the governor and General Assembly to take action," Mahan said.

Earlier this year, lawmakers cut state funding for the Department of Health and Human Services by approximately $1.7 billion to help close a $4.6 billion budget gap.

About $65 million to $75 million in state funds were cut from the department's community services budget. The Coalition says that cuts in Medicaid put the total to about $500 million.

The request for a special session comes one day after DHHS, at Gov. Bev Perdue's request, reallocated $15 million to maintain essential services and to offset the impact of cuts to the community – a right step, advocates say.

"The Legislature needs to take more steps," John Tote, executive director of the Mental Health Association in North Carolina, said. "The economic disaster is enormous. The service disaster is worse."

He said that DHHS has about $275 million allocated for services, which equates to about $70 per patient per month.

"When you begin to put quantifying numbers on real lives, the state of North Carolina is significantly behind where it should be in helping those people with these significant disabilities," Tote said.

Stories from people at risk of getting services cut or eliminated, the group says, are what it hopes will help send its message to lawmakers.

Kelly Woodall, a 26-year-old graduate student with cerebral palsy, says she receives a little less than 20 hours of support a week to help her with daily tasks such as eating and bathing. She had qualified for an additional 28 hours but will not get those because of the cuts.

She lives alone and worries that without the additional hours, she might be forced to move into a facility.

"How am I supposed to live my life in a nursing home?" she said Wednesday. "This is awful. I should be able to live in my own apartment and be self-sufficient. I ask that Gov. Perdue and the Legislature, please, help me stay in my own place."

Advocates say they don't believe lawmakers understood the full impact budget cuts would have, but House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, says legislators are sympathetic, but without more money to work with, he doesn't believe a special session will help.

"The problem is (that) there is no well of money to go to," he said.

Perdue, meanwhile, has given no indication that she will call a special session.

"Gov. Perdue has asked (DHHS) Sec. (Lanier) Cansler to continue working with patients, families and caregivers across the state to manage the budget reductions and maintain essential services as much as possible," the governor's spokeswoman, Chrissy Pearson said in a statement.

"There are real people behind the numbers, and we all knew the $1.7 billion in cuts to the DHHS budget would be hard. As we tighten our belts in response to the current economic situation, state agencies are working to find ways to continue serving our citizens to the fullest extent."

Cansler, meanwhile, spent Wednesday updating members of a legislative oversight committee about the reductions.

DHHS has implemented about a third of the budget cuts for the fiscal year, he has said, and a majority of the remaining will likely occur within the next 60 days.

21 Comments

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  • roncorey1 Oct 16, 1:24 p.m.

    Does this really surprise anybody?

    NC is like most Southern states. We ignore our mentally ill until they break the law and then leave them at the mercy of the court systems and the prisons

  • Professor Oct 15, 2:49 p.m.

    One never knows what situation they will find themselves in one day. Tomorrow is not promise. Judge ye not that ye not be judge. Some forget that until maybe something happens.

  • GroupOfPricklyPears Oct 15, 12:07 p.m.

    It's true, these are very scary times for some families. Millions of DHHS dollars have been squandered, abused right under the noses of the well meaning Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on MR/DD/SAS with the Dept.of DHHS in tow. It appears to us that Sec. Cansler's Dept is trying to identify and qualify real need, stop abuse and waste, manage what funds are available for services to help the most critical areas and closely work with families in the process. On the other hand, while we appreciate the Dept’s efforts to reassign, realign, re-direct, we have been through years of re-whatever with previous Secretaries of DHHS. To some it seems like Cansler may be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic with the approval of the committee-for now; however, we remain hopeful that as the economy improves the Dept and Legislature will be reasonably responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

  • cameragirl Oct 15, 10:40 a.m.

    I feel sorry for those in need of services. I worked many years in the mental health field and I know how frustrating it is to have a loved one in need of services. That said, we are in a difficult time here in NC. We don't have the money to pay for these services. Look at the unemployment her and elsewhere in the country. People will have to make do with what we have to work with. If this group is so adamant about providing services then why don't they provide the services at a reduced cost? I can answer that myself, because they want to make a big profit. The good people of NC are taxed enough. We pay 7% or more income tax and 7.75% sales tax. People in TN pay only 9.75% sales tax and no income tax. Why can't we do it for less? If we quit providing services to those people who are here illegally then we would have a big pot of money to spend on the mentally ill. I say, don't school them, don't provide medical services to them and certainly don't put them on welfare. We would save.

  • Israel J Pattison Oct 15, 10:19 a.m.

    How many millions did the legislature cut from sports scholarships at state universities? Thank God my tax money going to pay for college athletes is safe. What would we do if we couldn't pay football players to prepare for multi-million dollar NFL contracts in other states?

  • 4Strikes Oct 15, 9:45 a.m.

    Just tell the mental patients that the state legislature has decided that paying for illegal aliens to live happily in our state and gving WCPSS another truckload of money to bus kids all over Wake County and so many other wonderful programs are just more important. Oh, don't forget Bev's little junket to asia.

  • jesmyopinion Oct 15, 9:03 a.m.

    I can't wait until our entire health care system mirrors this - CHANGE we can believe in - yea right.

  • whatelseisnew Oct 15, 8:49 a.m.

    just wait until the dingbats in Congress pass the not health care reform. The entire medical field will be in a State of emergency.

  • 27615 Oct 15, 8:09 a.m.

    10,000 to 20,000 employees who provide those services will lose their jobs....SO WHAT?..private companies have had to do it...why would you expect the State Government not to? GOVERNMENT IS TOO BIG!!!!

  • OhBella Oct 14, 7:45 p.m.

    You're right..when/if family is able to. I understand when they can't or need a reprieve.

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