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The Associated Press November 4, 2010, 8:43AM ET

Mental health chief: Agency can't take more cuts

The director of the Mississippi Department of Mental Health says if his agency's budget is cut by 15 percent next fiscal year it could have "devastating" effects, including the closure of several facilities statewide.

Agency Director Ed LeGrand outlined those possible consequences in a letter to Gov. Haley Barbour, who had asked all state agencies to submit to him a plan by Nov. 1 on how they could cut their budgets by 15 percent.

"There are, obviously, many ways to absorb such a cut, but all of them are devastating to the public mental health system," LeGrand wrote in this week's letter.

"One possible scenario would require closure of everything we opened in the last 10 years or so," he wrote.

Among the facilities he listed were North Mississippi State Hospital in Tupelo, South Mississippi State Hospital in Purvis, Central Mississippi Residential Center in Newton, Mississippi Adolescent Center in Brookhaven, Specialized Treatment Center Facility in Gulfport and all seven crisis centers.

Barbour and the Joint Legislative Budget Committee have begun preparing spending recommendations for the budget year that begins July 1. When the 2011 Legislature convenes in January, lawmakers will consider those proposals while drafting the new budget.

Barbour has said Mississippi could expect a shortfall of at least $400 million because federal stimulus money runs out and the economy is making a slow recovery.

Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said all agencies face the challenge of operating with less money.

"And the challenge will be even more complicated if everyone clings to the idea that we have to keep doing the exact same things the exact same way," Turner said Wednesday.

"In the case of mental health, guiding the state away from institutional care and toward more home- and community-based care -- a recommendation Gov. Barbour has made before -- is just one possible area of savings," Turner said.

LeGrand said the department already needs an additional $37 million to restore lost stimulus Medicaid funds that won't be available next year. That money, combined with the 15 percent spending reduction, would mean $68 million less in state dollars for the agency.

LeGrand said eliminating the services at the facilities would only make up 58 percent of that figure. The rest would have to come from a combination of residential and community-based programs, he said.

"The state is already facing legal action for inadequate community services, so that would seem to make those almost untouchable," LeGrand wrote.

LeGrand said he wants input from policymakers before drafting a reduced spending plan.

Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, who is also a member of the budget committee, said he was willing to lead the effort to spare the agency further budget cuts.

Holland said the agency was already strained, "but with a 15 percent cut it's basically discombobulated. It's a shame and a disgrace."

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate and is also a member of the budget committee, said he would "do all in my power to help fund mental health, while taking into account the severe budget challenges facing state government."

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