OLYMPIA – Thurston County Commissioners, along with officials in Public Health and Social Services and the Law and Justice system, are urging state lawmakers to find a way to replace some significant mental health program funding. The loss of funding comes after the Federal Government informed the state that it can no longer use certain Medicaid funds to pay for some community-based mental health programs. The change means a loss of about $40,000,000 statewide and a reduction of $1.6-Million in Thurston and Mason Counties . Mark Freedman of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services says about 30-percent of the currently qualified folks in the county will lose support. "As many as 1,500 people who now receive treatment will no longer be able to obtain counseling and medications if this gap is not filled. That's a whole segment of our population, from the elderly to children and a lot of folks in between, who will not be receiving the assistance they need."
Some of those affected by the loss of program funds will wind up taxing the criminal justice system, emergency rooms and homeless shelters according to Associate Corrections Administrator Mark Bolton. "Some folks will find themselves in crisis because of this situation and that means they may act out in an inappropriate way. That could mean a trip to the emergency room, it could also mean they will come to the attention of law enforcement and wind up in jail and it may mean they will seek assistance from homeless shelter programs. In a larger sense, it also means challenges for the entire criminal justice system as some of these individuals move in and out of the jail and the courts."
Thurston County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe says the timing of the cutback could not be worse. "We have really made strides the past few years in our efforts to help people in the community who have mental health challenges. We have an Evaluation and Treatment Facility and Triage Center about to open, we have expanded mental health diversion programs in the jail and we are working on new programs like a mental health court. Now, to lose valuable funding is just like a train wreck that affects everyone."
Wolfe says she hopes the legislature will find a way to help solve the funding problem. "It's imperative that state lawmakers provide some assistance in this regard, not only for the hundreds of affected people in our county but for the thousands statewide. We will be talking with our local lawmakers and we hope Thurston County residents will also contact their legislators and let them know about their concerns regarding this issue."
Those who wish more information on the mental health funding issue, can view the newest edition of "Thurston County Connection" on Thurston Community Television. The program will begin its month-long run on Friday, November 19th on cable channel 3 in most of Thurston County . It will run Friday's at 7 PM, Saturday's at Noon and Sundays at 8 PM.