The state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities has approved a fiscal 2014 budget that includes reductions to service providers, the closing of a nursing...

The state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities has approved a fiscal 2014 budget that includes reductions to service providers, the closing of a nursing home and probable job cuts.

Like other state agencies, DBHDD is required to cut its budget 3 percent under orders from Gov. Nathan Deal’s Office of Planning and Budget. The state has been struggling with sluggish tax revenues amid a slow economy.

The current fiscal year also will take $27.8 million in cuts, but the fiscal 2014 reduction of the same amount will be much more difficult to absorb, agency officials said Thursday at their board meeting.

Jeff Minor, deputy commissioner of DBHDD, noted that the agency’s approval of a budget is just “the first step in a long process’’ of reaching a final budget.

“We hope it’s not a done deal,’’ Minor said of the austere new plan. “Some cuts we can take; some cuts are very difficult to take.’’

Spared from the budget knife is funding for the settlement agreements with the Department of Justice to boost community services and to improve state hospital care. Medicaid matching funds also have been exempted. 
The fiscal blueprint now goes to the Office of Planning and Budget, then eventually to the Legislature in January.

Some of the savings in the next fiscal year will come from reducing labor costs. That means job cuts, Minor later acknowledged to GHN. He said he could not give a number of jobs that will be eliminated. “Some will be vacant, unfilled positions,’’ he said.

The agency will also close Craig nursing home, with 128 patients, on the Milledgeville state hospital campus. “This is not our business, to run a regular nursing home,’’ Minor said. Patients will be placed in other nursing homes or in community settings, he said.

The proposed $9.4 million cuts to providers serving people with mental illness and developmental disabilities will ultimately mean reductions in services to patients, Minor said.

“We understand the state is in very difficult financial times,’’ he added.

Those provider cuts will come in the areas of mental health and developmental disabilities. Services for people with addictions may not get hit because that funding is “already tight,’’ Minor said.

DBHDD Commissioner Frank Berry said that though the reductions will hurt providers of care, “it’s the clients they serve who I’m worried about.’’

Board Chairman Larry Fricks said, “If your community services are good, you [keep] people in the community’’ instead of their needing expensive hospital services.

Minor said the agency will get input from the community service boards and other provider groups on which programs to cut.

The state will continue to close hospital units for people with developmental disabilities, part of the 2010 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve care in Georgia’s mental hospitals. (Here’s a recent GHN article about Georgia’s progress in the settlement.)

Both the amended fiscal 2013 and the 2014 budgets include a $1.5 million cut to the contract for a consultant, Dr. Nirbhay Singh. He has been getting about $3 million a year for his team, which helps the state in complying with a DOJ settlement to improve hospital care.

Singh’s work has drawn criticism elsewhere. Here’s a Los Angeles Times article about that.

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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