Leaders of a regional mental health agency say the state’s new spending plan leaves them without enough money to open a crisis center in Raleigh.
Alliance Behavioral Healthcare will get $19 million from the state this year, said spokesman Doug Fuller. That’s $4.9 million less than it received last year.
The organization had planned to open a 16-bed facility for adults in the next nine months at a site it is renovating off of Tryon Road. But now the group has to re-evaluate its plans, said Alliance CEO Rob Robinson.
“Construction was underway,” Robinson said. “This was in an effort to reduce unnecessary (emergency department) admissions and the number of people in jail.”
Mental health advocates say Wake County has lacked the proper resources to help patients with mental health disorders since the state shuttered Dorothea Dix psychiatric hospital near downtown Raleigh in 2010.
A state report recently showed the county needs at least 43 new inpatient beds to treat people with mental illnesses, Robinson said.
Alliance, which is one of seven regional health care management organizations in North Carolina, still plans to move forward with a crisis center in Fuquay-Varina for children ages 18 and younger.
The group spends Medicaid, state and county money to purchase mental health treatment for patients in Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties.
Under the new state budget, regional organizations are instructed to spend money they have in reserves to make up for the drop in funding. They “have almost a billion dollars sitting in reserve accounts that are not being spent on community mental health services,” said Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
She also said money that would have gone to the regional offices was redirected to other mental health services, including $2 million for a case management program in Wake that Alliance will help manage.
“This should send a clear signal to (regional health care management organizations) that state dollars should not be sitting on the sidelines, but should either be returned to taxpayers or spent on their core mission of providing mental health services as intended,” Carver said.
Alliance must now use Medicaid savings to make up for the shortfall in funds available for patients who are uninsured or under-insured, Fuller said.
The state cuts come shortly after the state auditor found that management group Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions paid its CEOs $1.2 million more than the law allowed and spent money on parties, alcohol, first-class airline tickets and other luxuries. State lawmakers decried the salaries and spending.
In the meantime, Wake officials say they will look for other ways to fund local mental health services. County Commissioner Greg Ford, who serves on Alliance’s board of directors, said the situation is particularly frustrating because the group already spent money to buy the facility in Raleigh.
“It’s the equivalent of building a school but not having the money to pay for the teachers,” Ford said.
Commissioner Matt Calabria said mental health crisis centers can save taxpayer money and keep some patients out of emergency departments. The number of involuntary commitments in Wake more than doubled from 2011 to 2016, he said, from 5,241 to 12,264.
“People who don’t get the proper kind of care early on are more likely to end up homeless, in jail or in the ER,” Calabria said. “We’ve already seen instances where local emergency departments couldn’t accept any more patients due to overcrowding and had to try to divert them to other options.”