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Financial crisis affects mental health nonprofits

October 9, 2008
by Nelson W. Burns
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As I search to take a deep breath, feeling the air has just been punched out of my lungs, I ponder how the financial crisis will affect my organization, employees and important customers. In Ohio, the state announces funding cuts and predicts more by January. My employees are silently worried about their future employment and retirement investments with no such thing of bonus money to rely on.

What do our professional fundraisers do during these times with endowment investments reaching historical lows and benevolent donors speechless at the future prospects of being philanthropic? And those important customers; who are standing on the edge of the abyss, balancing between sanity and breakdown. It is those customers who stay “normal” most of the time that are now at the brink!

The answer, of course, is to stay creative and supportive. These times call for professionals who know their true character is not tarnished by a financial crisis. Mental Health professionals have experience with times like these. We support others and find meaningful solutions to live another day. In peaceful silence, however, I remember the Scottish poet Robert Burns words…

“The best laid schemes o’ mice and men

Often go wrong

And leave us nought but grief and pain

For promised joy!



Ohio is just more "progressive" than most. In other words,

I absolutely agree that we must be creative and supportive and I would add innovative as well. These turbulent times will test whether we have adequately prepared our organizations to withstand budget cuts and a shrinkage of other sources of revenue as well. Many years ago I learned that in the Chinese culture, every crisis presents itself as a opportunity as well. This is exactly the kind of mental model we will need for the next several months and possibly years. Even here in New Hampshire, its looking like we too will not be spared from budget cuts. One of the things we have done to prepare for the storms is to solidify management's relationship with the staff in a variety of ways. We believe this will assist us with the inevitable hard decisions associated with budget cuts.

Ohio's situation is probably not unique but I have to agree that it is no less painful. Particularly in a state that has for so long been able to boast of one of the best public mental health systems in the country. Sad that the political leadership in our state seems to have abandoned their previously stated support for the work we are about and the people we are sworn to serve.

Somehow, the provider community, the local board authorities, the state departments, the legislature and the Governor must find a way to carve out some common ground where we can begin to put together a rational system for funding behavioral healcare services. If these various parties continue to fight amongst ourselves, it will be our clients that suffer.

A solution to the Medicaid problem must be found and it must be more than the recent band aid solution proposed by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. At best it was a half measure that demonstrated a true lack of effort to provide reasonable reimbursement relief for an already overburdened provider community and help the already financially strapped county board system.

We have to stop resorting to moving the deck chairs around because if we don't it won't matter when the ship sinks, everyone sitting in the chairs will be under water!

Sorry about the incomplete post. What I was saying is that Ohio is just feeling the pinch sooner than other states. We'll all be in the same situation before long. Behavioral health providers have an uncanny ability to "pull rabbits out of hats," even when times are at their worst. But this time around, I think we'll have to re-think our perpetual quest to be all things to all people. There comes a point when we have narrow our scope to those most essential services. What is expect is that we'll take a levels of care approach and subsidize care only for persons with the most critical needs even knowing that such an approach may lead to more crisis management than anyone would find acceptable.

Nelson W. Burns

Nelson W. Burns

Nelson W. Burns has been the president and CEO of ...

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