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WY Mental-Health Centers Face Budget Cuts During Record Demand


Thursday, June 10, 2021   

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Budget cuts to the Wyoming Department of Health are causing reductions in mental-health and substance-abuse services, with bigger impacts projected after July 1.

Andi Summerville, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers, said centers are losing $7.5 million in state contracts to serve people who don't have insurance or can't afford to pay.

The cuts come as centers are receiving a significant increase in crisis calls.

"We're still at that level presently today, where crisis calls are much higher than they've ever been," said Summerville. "In terms of timing, this certainly compounds an already difficult pandemic."

Many of the calls are from people who have never received mental-health services in the past.

Centers are laying off providers and staff, reducing hours, discontinuing programs, and will soon be forced to reduce the number of available residential beds for mental health and substance abuse.

Summerville said she understands the current fiscal constraints facing lawmakers, but she said she believes the cuts will increase costs to taxpayers over the long term.

If centers aren't able to keep doors open, hospital emergency rooms and other agencies will absorb much higher costs when people are not able to access basic mental-health and substance-abuse care.

"Early services keep them in their family, can help keep them in their community," said Summerville. "When they can't access those services, and their condition continues to worsen, then police departments get more phone calls for emergencies that are driven by mental-health crises. They show up in ERs."

She said centers are obligated to see every patient that shows up, but worries that soon there may not be a provider left on staff to greet them.

Summerville and other advocates are urging lawmakers to add staff in order to tap federal grants the state is currently leaving on the table, expand Medicaid, and other stop-gap measures to help mitigate the impact on Wyoming residents in need of mental and substance-abuse care.

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