Gov. Jay Nixon today visited the Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment at Southeast Missouri State University to discuss the findings of a new report about the impact House Bill 253 would have on mental health services in the state. The report, requested by the Missouri Mental Health Commission, found that an override of the Governor's veto of House Bill 253 would result in $164 million in cuts to services provided by the Department of Mental Health, including services for children with autism and their families. Gov. Nixon vetoed House Bill 253 in June, calling it an unaffordable experiment that would force dramatic cuts to state services and raise taxes on prescription drugs.
"Over the past several years, Democrats and Republicans have worked together to make Missouri a leader in helping children with autism and other developmental or behavioral challenges live fuller and more productive lives," Gov. Nixon said. "That is why this report showing that House Bill 253 would reduce access to autism diagnosis and therapy is so troubling. With more children diagnosed with autism each year, now is not the time to back up on our shared responsibility to these kids."
For its analysis, the Department of Mental Health used the General Assembly's own fiscal estimate, which estimates a cost of $692 million each year once the provisions of House Bill 253 are fully implemented. The Department projects General Revenue reductions to its budget of $87 million. Because many services offered by DMH also use federal matching dollars, the total reduction in the department's budget is projected to be approximately $164 million.
According to its report, the Department of Mental Health would have to take a number of actions to make up for the budget reductions, including reducing funding for the five DMH Regional Autism Projects across Missouri by 25 percent ($1.8 million) and reduce DMH funding to the Missouri Autism diagnostic centers by 25 percent ($1 million).
Programs and services offered through the Autism Projects are designed to assist in skill development of individuals with autism and provide needed training and support for families. Missouri Autism Centers help to decrease the amount of time a family may have to wait before being seen by a qualified diagnostic team when a child or student exhibits characteristics that may be consistent with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. With timely, accurate diagnoses, families, school personnel and medical personnel are better equipped to provide beneficial treatment for improved outcomes, hopefully at the earliest age possible.
The Department also anticipates having to close the 44-bed Hawthorn Children's Psychiatric Hospital and residential care facility in St. Louis, the 32-bed Cottonwood Children's Residential Treatment Center in Cape Girardeau, and five of the remaining seven state-operated developmental disability habilitation centers including the facility in Poplar Bluff.
"House Bill 253 will have a devastating impact on the people and communities we serve," said Dr. Keith Schafer, Director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health. "Thousands of Missouri families receive assistance with through our autism services. But the impact of House Bill 253 could make these services less available throughout the state. And the potential for closing hospital beds is especially troubling, as persons with mental illness are already at greater risk for homelessness and suicide."
The report also raised concerns that the costs associated with House Bill 253 would make it nearly impossible to improve the facilities at Fulton State Hospital.