Mental health cuts include autism services

Vetoes by Gov. Jay Nixon will cost the state's mental health system millions of dollars.

Parents of children with autism or developmental disabilities will face at least some reductions in services because of cuts the Department of Mental Health announced Wednesday.

The department is losing $34 million as a result of a series of budget vetoes Gov. Jay Nixon announced on Tuesday. That includes $1.3 million that would have paid for expanded autism diagnosis and treatment services and another $1.1 million for existing autism services. Department director Keith Schafer told KRCG 13 that reduction will mean fewer services for about 4,000 children. He said it is too soon to know exactly how services will be impacted.

In all, the department will have to lay off 157 employees, including the 88 working at the Cottonwood Residential Treatment Center in Cape Girardeau. That facility provides residential services for children with mental health problems. Schafer said the center will close on January 1. Children currently being treated there will complete their treatments, but no new patients will be admitted.

Almost $23 million of the money the department will lose was earmarked for the roughly 1600 private, nonprofit agencies that deliver much of the department's services. Schafer said those agencies handle everything from developmental disabilities to alcohol and drug abuse and are badly underfunded. The state had planned to pay the agencies more in the new budget year.

"There are significant impacts, impacts both in terms of the clients that we serve, and that's our most difficult change, but also impacts in terms of how we deliver those services to our staff," he said.

Schafer said families should be able to find similar services from private providers, but he said families of children with autism will have few options. He said those families might lose services such as respite care or therapies.

"Those will be net losses. There really isn't another place they can turn for those services," he said.

Schafer said regional developmental disability center staff will contact families to discuss changes to service plans.