Whether Gov. Mike Parson will give his blessing to the Missouri Legislature’s $49 billion state budget proposal remains to be seen. He has until the end of this month to decide if he backs the entire plan or if he will veto line items in the proposal.

Missouri Department of Mental Health Director Valerie Huhn said one proposed budget item aims to restore competency in St. Louis city, as well as St. Louis, Jackson, Greene, and Clay County jails.

“For individuals who are currently in the judicial system who have committed a crime and they are right now waiting to get into one of our state’s psychiatric hospitals,” said Huhn.

The budget item aims to clear a waiting list of about 230 people who are waiting to get into a state psychiatric hospital.

The department’s proposed budget would designate $232 million to boost pay for workers caring for the developmentally disabled.

“On that side, right now for our community programs, we have 704 individuals with the highest level of that are currently waiting to access a residential provider. Last year at this time, that number was 554,” said Huhn.

Another proposed item for her department would designate $4.3 million to add more youth behavioral health liaisons.

“Those are positions that are affiliated with our community mental health centers, our certified community behavioral health organizations, and they liaison with the schools, with the courts. Those positions will liaison to help them get into services so that we can do a better job of just closing that gap between needing services and finding those services,” said Huhn.

The legislature is proposing to provide $300 million to build a psychiatric hospital in Kansas City.

“We’re going to need to probably relocate about 100 beds from Fulton State Hospital because of the tight labor market there,” said Huhn. “And so, this can help us address that bed need.”

The proposal is for 200 beds – an increase of 100 beds at the current location.

“Now Hiring” signs are still hanging in many Missouri businesses. The state Department of Mental Health is no exception when it comes to finding workers.

Huhn said the largest vacancy rate for her agency is for psychiatry positions.

“We have an aging psychiatry provider network in our facilities,” said Huhn. “Very grateful for all the work they do. A lot of retirees that come back and help us but we really got to work at getting some new blood in there.”

She said the agency continues to struggle filling support care positions.

“Probably what’s equally troubling is just the turnover for those positions,” she said. “So 47% of those positions turnover, which it’s just it’s like a revolving door and we’re constantly training and it makes it very, very difficult and the same is true for our providers out in the community to get any continuity of care when you’re constantly retraining folks.”

She said the largest vacancy rate is at Fulton State Hospital, followed by the treatment centers in St. Joseph and St. Louis.

The legislature’s budget proposal also includes $10 million for autism research and $500,000 for an autism center in Rolla.

“I know we’ve talked specifically with some folks around the Rolla Autism Center,” says Huhn. “Compass is interested in helping us do some diagnosis for not necessarily early childhood but kids that are older that were realizing probably have an autism diagnosis but haven’t actually got a formal autism diagnosis.”

Another $5 million each would go to autism centers in St. Louis County, Springfield, and Joplin.

An electromagnetic treatment that stimulates the brain is used in Missouri to help treat health conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorder. Huhn said the fiscal outline would expand the use of the treatment.

“We are one of the few states that has already done it,” said Huhn “It’s a Medicaid-approved service in the state and Medicaid pays for it. The results that we see from folks are that it’s a non-medication way to improve your life, right, and a non invasive way.”

The treatment, called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is sometimes used when traditional medications don’t seem to help.

Meanwhile, Missouri’s 988 crisis hotline has been up and running for almost one year. Huhn said the hotline is more than a phone call.

“Those calls continue to increase every month,” said Huhn. “We do both call, text, and chat at this point. Our state response rate by our state providers is over 90%. Those 988 operators have a responsibility to follow up with you and make sure that you’re getting access to services if you need it, making sure you are feeling better.”

Part of the hotline efforts include a place for people to go for help. Missouri has 18 behavioral health crisis centers.

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