The Department of Mental Health will take the brunt of the job losses announced in the Governor’s State of the State speech. But Department Director Keith Schafer says they’re prepared for the change.
The Governor says the Department of Mental Health will lose 432 jobs as a result of budget cuts. Schafer says it’s part of a change in approach that the Department’s been working on for more than a year now.
“Last year we implemented, as part of our core cut scenario then, significant changes that moved a lot of our services more toward community-based services and less toward our institutional services,” Schafer said.
We asked him how noticeable the changes will be for those who receive these services. He says they don’t want to pretend it will be an easy, smooth, seamless process.
“I think overall, for most people, the changes won’t be negative. For a few people, it is true that those changes will be very difficult for them. In cases, for instance, like a person with a serious mental illness who’s in acute crisis and used to come to our Metropolitan Psychiatric Center and now will have to go to a community hospital” Schafer said.
The job losses will mostly impact the Metropolitan Psychiatric Center in St. Louis, Fulton State Hospital, and the Southeast Missouri Mental Health Center in Farmington. He says many of the job losses will be through attrition.
“In a period like this where you have the kind of chronic budget problems that the state of Missouri has had; it is a time in which you can and should take a close, careful look at how you’re doing business and we’ve done that,” Schafer said.
Schafer says the cuts are fair, considering about 7 percent of the state’s general revenue goes to the department.
“We have not yet, at any point in the last two or three years, been cut by our percentage of the budget. Meaning that if we represent 7 percent of the budget, we’ve never taken a full 7 percent (general revenue) hit during any one of those single years. We’ve been protected,” Schafer said.
We asked why he thinks his Department has been protected.
“I think both the legislature and the Governor’s office understand fully that we deal with an extremely vulnerable population of people. Folks who, our services often represent life or death to them,” Schafer said.