- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to cut money from a state grant program to community mental health and substance abuse providers is prompting an outcry from advocates and families of Newtown massacre victims in Connecticut, who warn patients will suffer from a lack of services.

The governor’s plan reduces the grant funding by $25.5 million in the next fiscal year, according to an analysis by the Connecticut Community Providers Association, a collection of nonprofits that provide various treatment and prevention programs. The grants have helped those agencies pay for uninsured clients and cover the gap between the state’s reimbursement for Medicaid patients and the actual cost of mental health services.

Despite the cuts, the budget calls for increasing spending overall by $22.8 million in the next fiscal year for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in Connecticut, which spends more per capita than most other states on mental health. Much of that increased spending stems from larger Medicaid caseloads and new programs initiated since the Newtown shooting such as services for high-risk populations and an anti-stigma campaign meant to encourage people to seek treatment.

Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, said Connecticut is one of the few states that supplements Medicaid reimbursement payments. But he said the grants are not a luxury the state can afford as it faces a looming $1 billion deficit.

After the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which a disturbed gunman shot 20 children and six educators, a commission tasked by Malloy with developing recommendations for prevention determined that mental health resources in the state “remain inadequate to serve the ever-expanding needs of the child, adolescent and adult population.”

“Behavioral health services have suffered in an era of tight state budgets,” the report read.

Jeremy Richman, a neuroscientist and brain health advocate whose young daughter was killed at Sandy Hook, said in a letter this month to the governor and legislators that the proposed cuts contrast with calls for increased funding, including those made by the advisory commission Malloy appointed following the massacre.

“Is your memory so short? Does the death of my daughter, her friends and classmates, and her beloved teachers mean nothing to you now?” Richman wrote.

Advocates argue the additional spending on mental health clients using Medicaid doesn’t necessarily help them financially. Despite more people having the government-funded health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the agencies said they can’t afford the cost of treating the additional Medicaid clients at the current reimbursement levels, predicting layoffs and program closures.

“This budget is absolutely horrible for anybody in the state of Connecticut who needs help,” said Heather Gates, CEO of Community Health Resources, a nonprofit system that provides mental health, substance abuse, supported housing and other programs to children and adults in central and eastern Connecticut.

In response, Barnes said it is important Connecticut lives within its means to meet the needs of the population well into the future. Malloy’s proposed two-year, $40 billion budget had to cover a more than $1 billion deficit in each of the next two fiscal years.

“We jeopardize our ability to provide mental health services or any other services when we do not adopt sustainable budgets that are affordable within the revenues available to us,” Barnes said. He said the funding the administration has provided for mental health is “ample and sufficient to continue our excellent progress.”

Since the Newtown massacre, the state has taken steps to better coordinate services between different agencies and offer families a variety of programs.

A new law charges the Department of Children and Families with improving mental health services for all children, not just those in its care, and the agency created a psychiatric consulting service that allows primary care givers to receive consultations over the phone. By the end of last year, pediatric practices with 1,247 practitioners had enrolled in the program.

Kristina Stevens, administrator for DCF’s clinical and community consultation and support services division, said $59 million has been invested over the past four years in community-based services for families, as DCF moves from serving children in residential group settings to serving them at home and in out-patient community programs.

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