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During Visit to Burrell Health Center in Springfield, Gov. Nixon Discusses Recent Report Showing that House Bill 253 Would Reduce Access to Autism Diagnosis and Therapy

Press Release

Location: Springfield, MO

Gov. Jay Nixon today visited the Burrell Center in Springfield to discuss the findings of a recent 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.

"Missouri is a national leader in crafting bipartisan solutions to help children with autism live fuller, more productive lives," said Gov. Nixon said. "Unfortunately, House Bill 253 threatens to limit Missouri families' access to autism services, including diagnosis and therapy. As more children are diagnosed with autism each year, now is not the time to break our promise to these kids and their families."

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).

"Families throughout Missouri have received critical services for their children over the past few years thanks to our shared commitment to children with autism," said Gary Duncan, Missouri Mental Health Commissioner and retired CEO of Freeman Health System. "But the cuts to our mental health system that would result from House Bill 253 would limit these opportunities for families in the future. Turning families away in their time of need would be harmful for these children and devastating for our state."

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 six of the Developmental Disabilities Regional Offices around the state, including the Joplin Regional Office. This closure would make the Springfield Regional Office staff responsible for serving the eleven counties previously served by the Joplin office.

"House Bill 253 has a high potential to negatively impact the families and communities we serve," said Dr. Keith Schafer, Director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health. "Weakening our mental health safety net will undermine public safety and put hundreds of individuals at risk. Furthermore, the closing of beds at the Hawthorn Children's Psychiatric Hospital and the loss of housing services for people with mental illness is especially troubling, as persons with mental illness are 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.

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