Regional Centers Face Deficit

By: Jon Kalahar Email
By: Jon Kalahar Email

Fifteen regional mental health centers across Mississippi are short some $22 million to continue providing care. It's money that Medicaid no longer covers.

Now they're turning to the state legislature for help. The only problem is the state also has a budget crunch.

Prior to 2001, the state paid the entire Medicaid match for those mental health centers. Now the money has to be paid up front by the centers to stay in compliance with federal guidelines. Twenty two million dollars is owed before February or several centers could face suspending services.

"We'll find a solution," said Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant. "It may not be the final solution but it'll get us though this next year and that's what we need to do just now."

Bryant called the deficit unexpected. But he says every possible funding source is being looked into to cover the gap.

"These are regional mental health centers, so we hope that the counties will be part of the investment process," said Bryant. "We're looking at matching some money with local funding, state funding, all the options are on the table."

For newly-named committee heads, a quick solution may not be possible.

"The shortest and most accurate answer is, 'I don't know but I'm working on it'," said Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory.

Bryan chairs the Senate's committee on Public Health and Welfare. He says the mental health shortfall is a product of an overall down turn in the state and national economy.

"Our revenue collections are turning down and we've got to figure out a way to deal with it," Bryan said. "It's going to be difficult and the mental health centers are one example of the number of similar situations we're going to be faced with over the next couple of years."

And neither Bryan nor Bryant would commit to covering the entire $22 million at this point.

Center directors have met with legislative delegations from each region to inform them of the importance of these mental health facilities.

Currently the centers spend about $20 million a year to provide for5 the under-insured and indigent population in the state.

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