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Local nonprofits feel the effects of statewide budget cuts

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Mental Health Association Oklahoma Executive Director, Michael Brose, near the liveing room inside the OKC Drop in Center.  mh
  • Mental Health Association Oklahoma Executive Director, Michael Brose, near the liveing room inside the OKC Drop in Center. mh

“Will I continue to receive services?” is the single most dreaded question for the staff at Hope Community Services Inc., a community mental health center in south Oklahoma City.

Last month, state leaders announced the budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year had swelled to $1.3 billion.

Exactly how the revenue crisis impacts the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), its 15 community mental health centers and patients is a guess until lawmakers vote on the final budget in May.

Hope staff predicted cuts are coming and that’s what makes client questions so difficult, said Jeanette Moore, Hope executive director.

“I can’t even image what it will look like,” Moore said. “We’ve been able to write grants for specialty services and were awarded federal grants, but core services continue to be cut.”

Hope is a nonprofit that provides counseling, psychiatric rehabilitation services, substance abuse services along with a dozen more wellness services. Partially funded by the ODMHSAS, Hope leaders believe with the state revenue crisis the organization will see rate cuts, caps on services or elimination of some services.

“We see individuals less often,” Moore said of past cuts to community mental health centers. “We have individuals coming to group counseling because we cut their individual counseling. We cut the amount of times they visit Hope.”

Summer King, Hope clinical director, said she sees tears in her clients’ eyes after sharing service changes.

Last year, the nonprofit served more than 7,400 clients, including children and adults. King and Moore see a great need for the organization’s services. For so many of their clients, Hope is the only care option. Without referrals, eliminating services means countless residents have nowhere else to turn.

“We would love to see the community come together and work together,” Moore said. “We have a shared goal of these lives matter.”

Nonprofit role

Money for social services is drying up as Capitol leadership cuts state spending by 7 percent for the final third of this fiscal year. It comes on the heels of a billion-plus-dollar budget hole for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Charitable and nonprofit organizations have long served as bridges between those in need and what social services the government provides. With a state revenue crisis, nonprofits play even greater roles, said Daniel Billingsley of Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits.

“Right now, the nonprofits that exist in Oklahoma are at a point where they are at full and total capacity for offering services,” said Billingsley, vice president of external affairs.

The statewide organization provides training and consulting for nonprofits. Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits reports there are more than 19,000 recognized nonprofits across the state, which offer services such as education, housing, meals, entertainment, health, leadership training and more. Additionally, the groups serve infants, children, seniors, veterans, low-income people and the disabled.

“When we have a state budget crisis of $1.3 billion, the nonprofit sector will continue to pick up those who were lost by that crisis,” Billingsley said. “If someone loses Medicaid or food benefits, we will see lines at free community health care clinics and food pantries. It creates a domino effect.”

MHAO efforts

Oklahoma consistently records some of the highest numbers of mental illness in the nation and troubling figures when it comes to adults and children who go without care. An estimated six out of 10 adults do not receive the care they need, according to The State of Mental Health in America, a report released by a national community-based mental health advocacy group.

Michael Brose, executive director of The Mental Health Association Oklahoma (MHAO), doesn’t have to read the statistics or funding numbers to know there are problems. As the leader of a nonprofit working with Oklahomans dealing with mental illness, he knows firsthand how budget cuts impact residents. MHAO runs OKC’s Lottie House, an adult drop-in center.

“We are not taking the initiative to fund these community-based programs that are proven to work,” Brose said. “We are not funding them appropriately. You either pay now or pay later. We are a state that said, ‘No. Let’s pay later.’ Sometimes, you have to spend money to save money.”

A consequence of nontreatment includes the burden shifting to police stations, courtrooms and state prisons. People with untreated psychiatric illnesses are reported to spend twice as much time in jail as non-ill individuals, according to Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to educating about mental illness.

The revenue crisis lead MHAO officials to take a second look at their advocacy efforts. Recently, the organization began working with criminal justice leaders. Research shows housing mentally ill inmates in county and state corrections facilities costs more than housing non-mentally ill inmates. Changes to criminal justice policies could shift savings back into mental health treatment.

“We do need more money, but we can’t be afraid to step back, like any good business does, and think how can we reinvent ourselves and reorganize,” Brose said.

Sunbeam steps up

When Jim Priest, Sunbeam Family Services CEO, visited Oklahoma City’s KidZone Learning Center to read Dr. Seuss books to youths, he wasn’t thinking about the state budget or downturn in the oil and natural gas industry.

Instead, he admired the bright environment with new books and learning toys furnished by Sunbeam through its mission to provide care to the youngest community members. As the recipient of the federal Early Head Start Child Care Partnership Grant, Sunbeam employees work with more than a dozen local child care centers to provide learning areas designed to capture children’s interests and eagerness to learn.

“The transformation that has taken place is not only physical, but an emotional transformation,” Priest said. “I asked the [director] to describe in a word or two what’s been happening. She said, ‘It has been a blessing, like a dream come true.’”

The Early Head Start program reaches more than 500 Oklahoma City youths from infancy to age 5. It is one of two early childhood programs housed at Sunbeam, a nonprofit that also provides services to low-income families through established senior services, counseling and foster care programs.

Sunbeam just scratches the surface, as more than 14,000 OKC children qualify for the early childhood programs.

“I told our board this is the time we’ve got to step up and make sure our service delivery is as robust as possible to meet the raising tide of needs,” Priest said. “We can’t be concerned with finances to the point we’ve got to start constricting our services.”

Priest said the nonprofit is prudent and careful with their operations costs. The group relies on donations, as well as some state and federal government contributions.

“We’ve got this up and down,” he said. “The revenues go down, but the needs go up. I am sure that is the case in nearly all nonprofits.”

The simple explanation is exact. Billingsley described the impact of government cuts on a variety of nonprofits, including historic preservation organizations, arts councils, prison ministries, parent teacher associations and foundations maintained by state colleges and universities.

“Now is the time to nurture the nonprofits. There is no better time to give,” Billingsley said. “We, as individuals and businesses, are going to need to dig deep and keep supporting those initiatives. The last thing we want to see is really good charities closing and shutting doors. We can’t afford not to take care of Oklahoma.”

Print headline: Domino effect, Nonprofits feel the burden of state budget cuts and our economic downturn.

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