JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is proposing to spend $10 million to help get mental health care sooner for those who need it.
The funding is included in the state budget released this past week by the governor's office and is part of Nixon's response to recent gun violence. Mental health services have gained attention nationwide after several high-profile shootings, including one at an elementary school in Connecticut.
Nixon said the proposal would help get Missourians timely, effective treatment.
"We must do everything in our power to get folks the treatment they need, before it's too late," Nixon said during his State of the State speech Jan. 28.
The biggest share of the funding would go toward an emergency room diversion project through the Department of Mental Health. Teams could respond quickly and begin working with a patient when an emergency room requests assistance.
Mental health officials plan to try the project at seven hospitals and would include a facility in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, central Missouri, south-central Missouri, southeastern Missouri and in the Kirksville or Hannibal areas. The Department of Mental Health estimates 1,100 people per year could be assisted through emergency room diversion.
Mental Health Department Director Keith Schafer said working with people who have mental health problems frequently is a challenge for emergency rooms. When a patient is displaying psychiatric or substance abuse problems, the team could take over responsibility and relieve the emergency room of trying to determine what to do.
"It's one of the critical places where we may quickly be able to come into contact with some of these folks who need ongoing help from us," Schafer said.
Nixon's proposal also includes money to hire 31 liaisons at community mental health centers statewide and to expand training for educators and law enforcement. In all, the programs would cost $10.1 million. Money for the proposal would come through the federal government.
Reaching people sooner can dramatically improve their quality of life, Schafer said.
"The vast, vast majority of people with mental illnesses will be victims, not perpetrators. The vast majority will be vulnerable to being taken advantage of, they'll be vulnerable to poverty, they will be vulnerable to all kinds of difficulties that will make life extremely hard, their quality of life extremely bad," he said.
Schafer said expanding Medicaid eligibility also can help and could allow for resources to do more intensive and ongoing mental health support.
Nixon has called for expanding eligibility for the state Medicaid program as called for under the federal health care law. The federal government would pay the cost for the first three years with the states gradually paying 10 percent. Republicans are resisting the expansion, citing concerns over its long-term costs.