We enter 2009 with feelings of both hope and despair. Many in the field eagerly are anticipating the Obama administration and Democratic-controlled Congress to reform the nation's healthcare system and take steps that specifically support behavioral healthcare services. Yet at the same time a deepening recession is wreaking havoc on state and local governments' budgets, directly impacting the funding of many behavioral healthcare organizations. As millions find themselves without jobs or return home from war and look to behavioral healthcare centers for help, many of these organizations are facing dramatic funding cuts.
Yet this isn't anything new to seasoned behavioral healthcare executives. They've faced tough times before and found ways to survive. Despite the dire economic climate, organizations still are forging ahead with investing in new facilities, training staff, upgrading information technology systems, and offering nontraditional programs to help consumers live healthier lives (more on this in a future issue). Many also are reaching out to their elected representatives to make sure they know how vital these services are to their communities—and how devastating cuts can be.
For example, I recently read about a state legislator reception held by the Area Mental Health Center in Southwest Kansas.1 Executive Director Ric Dalke convened the meeting to educate lawmakers on how proposed state budget cuts will impact those with serious and persistent mental illness. State Senate President Steve Morris attended the meeting and pledged to do everything he can to at least maintain the funding “status quo” for the state's mental health system in a bleak economic environment. Finney County Commissioner Clifford Mayo, who also attended the event, called the center one of the county's “best-kept secrets” and urged it to “toot (its) horn a little more” to keep local politicians informed of its good work. That's wise advice for any provider organization seeking to maintain its current funding level.
The behavioral healthcare field has some tough years ahead, no doubt about it. Programs will be cut; staff will be laid off; too many people will be turned away; and some organizations may collapse. But most of the field's leaders will find ways to navigate their organizations through this rough time, relying on strong advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels; proactive planning for tomorrow while managing today's crises; and passionate and dedicated staffs with an unwavering tenacity to serve those with behavioral health problems.
Douglas J. Edwards, Editor-in-Chief
- Associated Press. Advocates fear cuts will hurt mental health care. Newton Kansan. December 15, 2008. http://www.thekansan.com/news/x1049858300/Advocates-fear-cuts-will-hurt-mental-health-care.