The North Carolina General Assembly is back in session this week. But it will not be taking up the vetoed state budget – meaning a major cut to mental health care providers in Western North Carolina will stay in place for now.
BPR talks to one local mental health provider about how this will impact the community:
Dr. Don Buckner is CEO and medical director of Meridian Behavioral Health Services, a publicly-funded mental healthcare provider. He explains a $9 million cut in funding to Vaya Health would mean less money for Meridian too since the organization’s funding is managed by Vaya.
“The state has up to this point made progress in making resources available for these individuals. But unfortunately through these budget reductions, it's heading in the wrong direction,” says Buckner. “This is not progress. You know, this is something that will have real negative effects on individuals in the community.”
Meridian has locations in Cherokee, Macon, Haywood, Transylvania and Jackson County. Buckner says one of their most expensive services stands to be the first impacted - the ACT Team.
“ACT stands for Assertive Community Treatment Team.”
That’s Becky McKnight. Leader of ACT team. She’s been with them for 10 years.
“We provide whole person care to folks with severe and persistent mental illness in their home,”says McKnight, who is a licensed clinical social worker and a licensed clinical addiction specialist.
The team of 10 professionals covers Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties. They provide medical care to 75 patients with conditions such as bipolar and substance abuse disorders. Tracey Murphy is the team’s vocational trainer, Bobbi Watts is the team’s registered nurse and Jenny Gallop is the peer support specialist. If their patients don’t have homes - then they visit them where they are.
“So we get to change an individual's perception of what mental health treatment can look like,” explains McKnight, as she describes going for walks with patients or simply bringing them food. “And that has been the thing that's kept me in this service for as long as I've been here.”
The team also helps individuals get jobs and attend school.
“The research actually shows that gaining employment is a way to achieve wellness,” explains McKnight.
These patients often don’t have insurance and haven’t been able to apply for disability. Currently six patient’s get state-funded care. That care comes from the pot of money being cutback. Buckner says Vaya won’t be able to approve any more of that if these cuts are permanent.
“Vaya has been very transparent with us about this and asked for feedback on strategies to help manage those reductions but we know that this is one service that's likely to feel some of that,” he says.
Vaya CEO Bryan Ingram can’t confirm how budget cuts will impact Western North Carolina yet. State legislators have said they are working to lessen the cuts to Vaya's budget.