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Mental-health care services face cuts

Board must pare at least $1.7M

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    Joe Tafelski

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    Lisa Canales

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    Scott A. Sylak

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Mental-health care providers and advocates are warning that looming cuts at the county's Mental Health & Recovery Services Board will mean tough choices and fewer services for the mentally ill and their families.

The board has an anticipated deficit of $1.7 million to $2.2 million for the fiscal year that begins in July, Scott Sylak, the agency's executive director, said.

State funding to the board of about $3.1 million over the last two years has been eliminated, which represents about 16 percent of the board's budget. Declining property values have eaten away at levy income; it is projected to fall a total of about $980,000 in the current and next fiscal years.

"Everything we fund is important and has a place in our community continuum," Mr. Sylak said.

"We don't have the ability to close a gap of $1.7 million."

The board distributes about $15.8 million to a number of area agencies that provide mental-health treatment, emergency services, housing support, drug and alcohol treatment, family support, and prevention services, according to financial documents on its Web site.

Several agencies could have all the funds they receive from the board eliminated, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Toledo, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, and the Sylvania Community Action Team.

Rescue Inc., the area's only center for emergency mental-health care, is facing a $1.2 million cut, about 15 percent of Rescue's operating budget.

"These programs [at risk] are essential in allowing individuals access to care, as well as helping stabilize individuals in mental-health crises," Jason Smith, Rescue's manager of quality improvement, said in an email. "These cuts would directly affect approximately 7,500 individuals each year, many of whom are in the greatest need of help. ... "

Decisions about which agencies will receive funding and how much are not final, Mr. Sylak said, and agencies that have been notified funds could be cut can appeal. Final decisions likely won't be made until June, Mr. Sylak said. However, board trustees will be voting Feb. 28 on the recommendations, made by board staff.

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Lisa Canales, education director at NAMI, said her agency anticipated a cut in funding from the board, though it did not foresee losing all of the estimated $136,000 it receives, about half of the group's budget.

"We have been presenting this process of decision-making for some time," Mr. Sylak said. "This shouldn't have taken any organization by surprise."

Ana Ulrich-Lopez said the services her son and her family received from NAMI are critical.

"Six years ago … he faced a future of institutionalization," Ms. Ulrich-Lopez said in a letter to the mental health board. "NAMI advocates fought to help me get him quality mental-health care and taught me about being a strong advocate for him."

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Joe Tafelski

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Advocates for Basic Legal Equality has been receiving funds from the mental health board since the 1970s, said Joe Tafelski, the legal group's executive director.

Many people with mental-health issues are in poverty, said Mr. Tafelski, and are eligible for federal Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. However, SSI is difficult to apply for successfully without a lawyer or advocate, a role his agency fills. That would end if the mental health board cuts the $91,000 it annually provides to ABLE.

"No one else in the community does this," Mr. Tafelski said. "We're basically it for people trying to take that step. ... " Nancy Woods was one such client the agency assisted. "Without them, I'd still be homeless," she said.

Last year, the agency helped 112 clients receive benefits. "This [cut] is going to have huge ripple effects," Mr. Tafelski said.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.

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