Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Rep. Gingery to legislators: pass mental health funding bills

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, urges his fellow legislators to "continue to fund changes in its mental health and substance abuse treatment system to keep it from backsliding into being one of the worst in the nation," according to an AP story.

"People come first," Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, said. "We have to make them the highest priority."

Gingery is co-chairman of the Legislature's Select Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The committee is proposing legislation to spend $14.2 million to continue fixing what had been a dysfunctional mental health and substance abuse treatment system. Gingery expects supporters will have to work hard to ensure that the money will be appropriated in the legislative session that begins Jan. 13. Lawmakers expect to have fewer dollars than in the past few years for new expenditures.

Gingery said Wyoming has gone from having one of the worst mental health and substance abuse treatment programs to one of the best.That's because of increased funding since 2005, he said, that has allowed the state to overhaul the system and move toward a regional delivery system.

The bill calls for $700,000 for early intervention with preschoolers; $260,000 toward a group home for those with mental illness; $3 million toward crisis stabilization programs in five regions around the state, allowing for someone who is suffering from a mental health emergency to receive treatment near home rather than at the State Hospital in Evanston; $3.6 million toward treatment programs in four regions for people who have both mental illness and substance abuse problems; $3.1 million toward raising salaries for mental health and substance abuse treatment providers; $3.5 million toward adult acute psychiatric care in a hospital in each of five regions.

Meanwhile, Gov Dave told agency directors today to prepare for 5 percent cuts in their budgets for the next fiscal year that begins July 1. That can mean steep cuts in the very programs that Rep. Gingery wants to improve. State funding for Medicaid programs could suffer big cuts.

Dr. Brent Sherard, director of the Wyo. Dept. of Health, said his agency will look for ways to trim costs with improved efficiency. But some reductions in state spending on Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor, will be required.

"We would need to do some close scrutiny to make sure those cuts had as little impact on our Medicaid clients as possible," Sherard said.

But Medicaid funding is not just for "programs for the poor." Many middle class families need Medicaid assistance during emergencies. And the Dept. of Health's Children's Medicaid Waiver program has helped many families (including ours) with mental health care for children and teens. It would be a travesty to cut those programs when they are just beginning to have an impact.

Support Rep. Gingery in his quest to improve mental health care in Wyoming. Send him an e-mail of support at kgingery@wyoming.com

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