It Should Have Been A Really Good Month

July 18, 2009
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Back in June 2008, the staff and management of Network 180 were really looking forward to July 2009.

Network 180 broke ground back then on a $6 million renovation and expansion of its administration building at 728 Fuller Ave. NE, part of the Kent County Fuller Campus. The expansion added 27,000 square feet to the structure over three levels for classrooms, training rooms and conference rooms. The project, managed by Rockford Construction, will go after LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and be completed in July.

But since last May, some of the luster that accompanied the anticipation of July’s arrival has lost its sheen. July is also the first month of the last quarter of the current fiscal year. An executive order issued in May by Gov. Jennifer Granholm cut spending to the Department of Community Health by $53 million for the year’s final three months.

That reduction was part of $220 million Granholm ordered to be hacked from the state’s general fund spending plan in light of Michigan’s $1.3 billion deficit. It also means Network 180 will have fewer dollars to help residents in need of psychological help get treated — a lot fewer dollars.

“The governor’s order eliminated $10 million out of the general fund allocation for mental health around the state, and Kent County will have a reduction of just a little under $224,000 in our general fund for mental health,” said Paul Ippel, executive director of Network 180.

Ippel explained the fourth-quarter cut means $37,000 less for substance abuse disorders and $14,000 less for the children’s respite program.

“We don’t know exactly what the implications of this are for next year. But, obviously, it’s a significant reduction,” said Ippel.

Ippel said his agency gets about $16 million per fiscal year from the state’s general fund and that Network 180 did receive the appropriate amounts for the first three quarters of the year. But he also said most of its funding comes from Medicaid, and for good reason.

For at least the last three years, eight of 10 individuals receiving child and family services through the agency have been covered by Medicaid. And the total number of the individuals who received those services rose from 2,260 in 2006 to 2,741 in 2008, marking an increase of 21.3 percent over only 24 months. Those insured under Medicaid have proportionally grown too — from 1,808 in 2006 to 2,193 in 2008.

Network 180 used Arbor Circle, Bethany Christian Services, Catholic Social Services, the Family Outreach Center and Wedgwood Christian Services as providers in its home-based, family-case management and outpatient services in 2008 for children and families. But at least a portion of those services will go completely away for the last fiscal quarter.

“We are going to be eliminating all those children’s respite services. This program has allowed families to basically identify friends of the family that could provide respite to their children. In order to substitute for that, there is a Medicaid respite program,” said Ippel.

“But there are much more stringent requirements on the person providing the care. It’s a more expensive and complicated program for families. So that’s how we will handle the children’s respite.”

The loss of state funds also means fewer clients are likely to get treatments for drug and alcohol dependency problems now through September.

“The substance abuse disorder cuts basically mean we’re either going to expand our waiting list for individuals requesting substance abuse disorder services, or we will probably have to deny services to some individuals. Or they will at least have to wait for services. And that includes detoxification, residential services, counseling services and methadone detox, as well,” said Ippel.

The cuts to substance abuse and children’s respite services aren’t the only reductions Network 180 will make over this three-month period. The agency’s mental health spending will also decrease.

“We’re going to reduce some of our current outpatient services by $150,000. So that will have an impact on individuals with mental health problems who are seeking services, and they will probably have to be put on a waiting list for services,” said Ippel.

Over the last fiscal year, Network 180 served 11,283 clients across 17 categories. About two-thirds of those clients received prevention services through the agency. In FY08, nearly 95 percent of the agency’s clients reported they were satisfied with the services they received that year — a satisfaction figure that Network 180 has achieved for at least the past four years.

“So it’s a bad situation,” Ippel said of the fourth quarter. “But we’re especially concerned about what next year brings because if all of this gets multiplied by four, we’re really going to be in trouble.”

Quadrupling the quarter’s cuts to substance abuse, children’s respite and outpatient mental health services would result in a spending reduction of more than $800,000 for Network 180 in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

“What we know is that, based on these decisions, we will no longer be able to provide prevention services and in the less-intensive services for people who do not have Medicaid. So we will continue to provide emergency services for folks, but it’s sad when you let people get to an emergency state before you provide services,” said Ippel.

“It’s just sad because we know that avoiding addressing these problems as early as we can is the best way to save peoples’ lives and reduce costs. And, of course, these cuts will lead us in the opposite direction.”  HQ

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