Mental health programs in peril | SierraSun.com

Mental health programs in peril

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

Ryan Salm/Sierra SunWellspring Counseling Center's Susan Coyote goes through files in her office.

Funding cuts to behavioral and mental health programs in Nevada County are hitting hard and future funding looks volatile at best.

With $750,000 gone from the county’s behavioral health budget due to cuts at the state level, those who work in the field are having to adjust how they provide services.

“It means that we have to focus much more on mandated services ” children and people with Medi-Cal ” and that we make it more difficult for everyone else to get treated,” said Behavioral Health Director Michael Heggarty. “We raise the bar and start prioritizing who gets in the door, and we end up treating people in emergency situations almost exclusively.

“We don’t like doing this,” Heggarty said. “We don’t like rationing treatment.”

With a county human services budget of $45 million in state and federal funding ” $43.5 of which is spent on mandated programs ” allocating additional money as needed is like building a jigsaw puzzle with a dozen missing pieces, county officials said.

Watching funds disappear from the county’s behavioral health budget wasn’t viewed with indifference by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, said Supervisor Ted Owens. But when funding is stagnant and costs are rising, breaking even and maintaining a minimum is often the only option, he said.

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To fill in a portion of the needed funding, the board of supervisors approved $507,000 for behavioral health this year, Owens said. But even with that support from the board, the cuts are being felt in Truckee to the tune of about $50,000. The impact here is less than what was dealt to services and employees in west county, where five positions were eliminated and day-time crisis and emergency services were canceled.

Without the additional half-million from the board, the county would have lost its residential rehabilitation facility too, Heggarty said.

“”This is not a joke. This is serious stuff that we are not able to cover and it’s a big burden on the county and on the communities,” said Susan Coyote, executive director of Wellspring Counseling Center in Truckee.

Funding changes in Truckee will impact services at the local county health office, where a positions were realigned to absorb more clients per staff member, and at Wellspring Counseling Center where intern contracts with therapists were discontinued.

“We have limited resources, and a lot of (private) counselors have full schedules and aren’t taking new clients,” Coyote said.

Heggarty said he is trying to bring in more income by increasing productivity by seeing more people in less time

“So far, we have been able to make this work, but it is very difficult.”

“It is a state-wide issue that is being vigorously debated by mental health directors, but there is no fix currently in sight,” Heggarty said. “If nothing changes in the next 12 months, we will have additional layoffs in 2007-08, so if we don’t think about ways to generate more income, or cut more costs, we are going to have a problem.”