Arkansas Mental Health Director Proposes $4.3M Plan to Treat Mentally Ill Inmates
During a Dec. 19 meeting with the state Joint Budget human services and health subcommittee, Arkansas Division of Mental Health Services Director Richard Hill proposed a $4.3 million plan to treat forensic patients -- mentally ill individuals charged with a crime -- in State Hospital, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. Under the proposal, Arkansas would convert 30 of State Hospital's 90 acute care beds into 24 beds for forensic patients waiting for treatment, which would allow 36 additional forensic patients to receive care each year, helping to reduce a "backlog" in county jails. State Hospital would lose six beds because of "building modifications" required to address "security needs" for forensic patients. Subcommittee Co-Chair state Sen. John Brown (R) expressed concern about proposal, pointing out that the state Department of Human Services could not fund the program. In addition to the $4.3 million plan, Hill also proposed spending $1.2 million for additional community-based mental health services for children, an additional $1 million for similar services for adults and $635,000 to boost the salaries for State Hospital's nurses and mental health workers. "We could do some wonderful things with that $7 million," he said. Hill also outlined a "similar but more ambitious plan" costing $13.6 million. According to Kenny Whitlock, executive vice president of the Mental Health Council of Arkansas, the state should fund Hill's $13.6 million proposal. Referring to budget cuts in community-based mental health centers, Whitlock said, "It's not that we can just do some wonderful things," adding, "It will go a long way to get out of a very dangerous trend." Also on Dec. 19, the subcommittee "endorsed" Gov. Mike Huckabee's (R) mental health services division biennial budget, which would increase the division's $54.4 million for general revenue in the next budget biennium to $55 million in the first year and $55.6 million in the second year (Wickline, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 12/20).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.