VOA concerned over proposed cuts that would impact mental health care

VOA concerned over proposed cuts that would impact mental health care

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The state health department said if senate accepts the budget approved by the house it would suffer a nearly billion dollar funding cut when federal dollars are factored in and Volunteers of America, Greater New Orleans is concerned.

"We're expecting the elimination of our mental health, behavioral health programs, our community-based programs. We serve over 1,200 individuals that are living with mental health issues every day," said Voris Vigee, MBA, Executive Vice President of Programs for VOA Greater New Orleans.

She said thousands more are helped statewide.

"The other things we're looking at cutting are all, all mental health services for Medicaid, we're talking about psychiatric beds, we're talking about mental health services, we're talking about other things as well like pediatric day health, psycho-social rehab for youth," said Rebekah Gee, M.D., Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health.

VOA provides housing, counseling, medication management and other services with the help of dollars from Medicaid, a government funded health coverage program.

"Volunteers of America receives impacts well over $2 million on an annual basis," said Vigee.

She said losing those dollars would resonate in the community.

"There are going to be rapid admitters to hospitals, they're going to end up being institutionalized, hospitalized and then they're going to be without services," said Vigee.

And it is a fact that some individuals with untreated mental illness behave in such a way that they end up in such a way that they end up in the criminal justice system.

"We're talking about incarceration because of folks, adults and children who are in crisis and they end up incarcerated as a result because they're not getting their mental health and behavioral health needs met," added Vigee.

"It's going to be a difficult process for people to come to grips we really can't appropriate more money that we have which is just commonsense," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.  He is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and had a role in fashioning the budget approved by the House which allocates 97.5 percent of the revenues the state is estimated to take in during the new fiscal year which begins July 1.

"We don't have this money in our checking account, spending 97.5-percent of the obviously about two-percent difference from previous years.

Henry said some previous revenue projections have been too optimistic and mid-year budget cuts have been the result.

"We're not going to appropriate all of it to prevent mid-year cuts, it has nothing to do with party, or the governor, or anything else, it's just basic commonsense," said Rep. Henry.

And Henry believes the state health department can absorb the funding cut without decimating mental health services.

"They continue to have more money, their budget is roughly $12 billion…I'm perfectly confident if they choose to make those things a priority they'll be able to do it," Rep. Henry stated.

"Members of our family, friends of our family, the people who have paid their dues to our community who are going to suffer as a result of the decision to cut mental health and behavioral health services," said Vigee.

Rep. Henry said he expects the senate to amend the budget bill and then both houses of the legislature would have to reach consensus.

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