JEFFERSON CITY — The state of Missouri plans to close a mental health hospital in Nevada within two years as part of ongoing cost-cutting in the face of declining state tax dollars.
The Missouri Department of Mental Health announced Wednesday plans to close the Nevada Habilitation Center by 2012 and will soon begin transitioning 60 of the 90 patients into group homes across southwest Missouri, which are less expensive to operate.
Thirty individuals with the most severe disabilities will be transferred to other congregate facilities across the state, said DMH spokesman Bob Bax.
Approximately 50 jobs will be eliminated from the closure.
"These are decisions that are being driven by the budget," Bax said.
State lawmakers are currently debating $500 million in cuts from a $23.5 billion budget for the 2011 fiscal year. The state likely faces a deficit of $1 billion next year when federal stimulus money runs out.
An exact cost-savings estimate for closing the Nevada facility was not available Wednesday, Bax said.
The savings also wasn't mentioned in a one-page internal memo that the agency distributed Wednesday to employees detailing the closure and transition plans.
The DMH memo said 168 of the 305 employees at the Nevada center would remain employed in the area, managing the care of the mentally disabled patients in group homes and apartments.
The remaining 87 employees would have the opportunity to transfer to mental health centers in Higginsville, Marshall, Poplar Bluff or Sikeston, according to the memo.
Closing the facility follows a trend in recent years of transferring mentally disabled individuals from institutional facilities to group homes.
"The trend is to put them into the community," said Sen. Norma Champion, chair of the Senate committee that handles mental health policy issues. "It's a good trend. It's cheaper and it's better for the residents."
The families of patients at the Nevada Habilitation Center disagree.
Natalie Woods of Springfield had her sister Cindy admitted into the Nevada center six years ago after numerous stays in group home, private care and psychiatric facilities.
"Most everyone has tried them in their communities," she said of private facilities and group homes. She added that "both have failed them."
Woods said her 37-year-old sister has mild mental retardation, cerebral palsy and multiple psychiatric disorders. Several years ago, Cindy's behavioral problems had become unmanageable for her family to care for her at home, Woods said.
The Nevada Habilitation Center was the "last resort" in Cindy's journey from facility-to-facility, but the structured environment from trained staff turned out to be "really exactly what she needed," Woods said.
"You can't understand how heart-wrenching it is to have this lifesaving treatment taken away from them," said Woods, who is her sister's legal guardian and president of the Nevada Habilitation Center Family Support Association.
Fearing the closure could lead to more private companies taking over the role of caring for their loved ones, the family support group is fighting the cuts.
"Group homes don't work for these types of individuals," said Kristal Lindstrom of Nixa, whose 35-year-old brother, Matthew Mell, is a patient at the Nevada facility. "This is severely going to hurt my brother's care."
Woods and Lindstrom both said private companies often hire unskilled workers who come and go. At the state facility, the workers are more permanent and better understand the needs of their siblings, they said.
The closure of the Nevada facility will likely result in the loss of union jobs for members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. AFSCME Council 72 represents direct care and maintenance workers at the facility, said spokesman Joe Lawrence.
On Wednesday, AFSCME put forward to lawmakers a list of $150 million in proposed cuts — money that union suggested could be used to avoid closing the Nevada facility and making other deep cuts to social services.
AFSCME's proposed cuts include:
- Reducing service contracts by $70 million — or 20 percent — for information technology and health care service providers. Contracts in those areas have risen 27 percent since 2007, according AFSCME.
- Make a 10 percent "haircut" to corporate tax credits and incentives that have eroded away $2.4 billion in tax revenue since 2005.
- Eliminate special tax breaks — such as one exempting sales taxes for the sale of yachts — that could save another $30 million annually, according to AFSCME.