03/29/04 — Progress? Merger brings reduction in mental-health funding

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Progress? Merger brings reduction in mental-health funding

North Carolina’s Division of Mental Health urges local mental health agencies that serve small populations to merge with others. That is because a single multi-county mental health department can serve a number of counties more efficiently.

Merging the departments does not make it easier for people to get to those agencies and use them, but financial efficiencies are important. Accordingly, Wayne County merged its old Mental Health Department with the Lenoir-Duplin-Sampson mental health agency. The merger created an agency named Eastpointe to serve the four counties.

These four counties have a combined population that exceeds 200,000. Under the state Division of Mental Health’s rules for state funding, an agency serving more than 200,000 people gets $1.61 per person per month from the state.

If Wayne, Duplin, Lenoir and Sampson had not yielded to efficiency and merged their agencies, the counties would have gotten $2.03 instead $1.61.

So the people in the four counties of Eastpointe are being penalized because their counties did what the state Division of Mental Health wanted them to do.

And the difference is $1.5 million a year.

Eastpointe’s directors and staff are lobbying for more, and they deserve more.

Admittedly, Eastpointe should be able to operate more economically than the two agencies did before the merger. Otherwise, what was the point of merging?

But the state’s planned cuts are too big. If mental health services must be reduced by merged agencies because the state funding is too low, merger is a step backward instead of a step forward.

Perhaps some middle ground could be reached. After all, the four counties have demonstrated their good intentions.

Published in Editorials on March 29, 2004 11:22 AM