Officials say mental health services are strong in Greene County, but funding issues continue to hamper early detection and prevent optimal care.
That’s according to Mark Stringer, director of Behavioral Health for the Missouri Department of Mental Health, who spoke at the Springfield Library Center Thursday night. His appearance came on the heels of a two year study conducted by the League of Women Voters of Southwest Missouri examining the accessibility and affordability of mental health care for the county’s adults.
Stringer asserted that the lack of adequate funds prevents widespread care. He says the administrative agent for Greene County, Burrell Behavioral Health, must make the difficult choice to prioritize some patients over others.
“There are a number of…target populations that we have required they serve with state funding, which then limits what they can do with state funds for other populations. It’s very frustrating,” Stringer said.
According to Stringer, however, efforts to equalize care have been unsuccessful.
“We’re trying to figure out how to correct that. The trouble is, to do that will really require additional funding, because I’ll tell you there’s no place in the state that’s over funded when it comes to mental health services.”
Earlier attempts to address this issue, such as deinstitutionalization, also did not fix the issues, Stringer explains. He says psychiatric patients that were released from hospitals did not receive proper recovery care.
“Because of the lack of funding that we have, are winding up, where? Jails. Prisons. Nursing Homes. Too many people have simply wound up in other inappropriate settings for people with mental illness.”
To improve mental health care services in Greene County, Stringer proposed three solutions.
First, Medicaid expansion, he says, would add thousands of individuals, specifically young adults, to the program. Stringer noted it would specifically increase the ability to detect early signs of mental illness in young adults.
Additionally, federal planning grants could increase funds significantly. Because of Missouri’s exemplary state healthcare service, Stringer says the state is currently eligible to receive a federal planning grant. Applying for additional grants and introducing improved standards could create opportunities for increased funding in the future.
Lastly, Stringer says establishing a mental health mill tax has proven successful in other counties. The tax could widen the target population and promote widespread care in Greene County, he asserts.
Overall, Stringer is optimistic about mental health services in this community. He considers Greene County a good model for the state, and looks forward to improvements in the system.