Lifelines exec decries fund cuts

STAFF report

WARREN — Trumbull County mental-health services will be cut $2.4 million for the fiscal year starting this month, which will result in more mentally ill people “on the streets, in the jail and in the hospitals,” said April J. Caraway, Lifelines executive director.

Lifelines is the county’s alcohol, drug-addiction and mental-health services board.

The $2.4 million cut resulting from the budget approved by the Ohio Legislature on July 28 will especially diminish the services provided by Lifelines agencies such as Valley Counseling, which is being reduced from $1.8 million in Lifelines funding last year to $994,000 allocated this year, Caraway said.

Caraway said the 26-percent cut to mental-health service agencies in Ohio is the largest cut, percentagewise, of any of the state agencies.

A “corrections bill” is expected to come before the Legislature next month that some believe will restore some of the mental-health funding, Caraway said.

Being cut is the money the state provided to the local community to care for mentally ill people who were frequently placed in state mental hospitals in the past, Caraway said.

Under 2008 funding levels, Lifelines agencies were able to help people manage their mental-health problems — typically with medication — before their condition reached a crisis point.

People who are suicidal or psychotic will still get help from local service providers, but the rest will get moved to a waiting list, where their conditions might deteriorate, Caraway said.

In some cases, the person’s problems won’t be addressed until it reaches a crisis.

“As a result of these reductions, hundreds of people in Trumbull County with severe mental illness who do not qualify for Medicaid will not receive the services they need in order to survive,” Caraway said.

In addition to a 39-percent cut in funding to Valley Counseling, other cuts from Lifelines include a 33-percent reduction to Coleman Professional Services, 28 percent from Community Solutions Association and 26 percent from Burdman Group.

Lifelines’ 2009 budget of $18.8 million is close to the 2008 amount of around $19 million, but the increases in funding from federal sources can be used only for specific things — such as Medicaid — and not for operation of services such as the Coleman Access Center, which helps people in crisis, Caraway said. That service is accessed in Trumbull County by calling 211.

The center has reduced its overnight crisis staffing by at least half, from two or three people depending on the day to one, Caraway said. That means the employee will have to remain at the phone, and no one will be able to travel outside the building to help people, she said.

The Trumbull Lifelines staff of eight people has taken concessions that have reduced administrative overhead to 4.9 percent of total revenue, Caraway said.

“As a direct result of the budget reductions, counseling, case management, housing, employment, assessments and other services will no longer be available for the poorest and most-needy persons with mental illness and addictions in the community,” Caraway said.

“This could lead to more people being homeless, jailed, hospitalized and desperate. Suicides and crimes that occur as a result of untreated mental illness could increase dramatically,” she said.

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