JEFFERSON CITY — Public assistance for mental health in the state of Missouri may have a variety of programs, but the services aren’t always easy to come by.

On Wednesday, Missouri’s Joint Committee on Public Assistance held a hearing to discuss the reports from Missouri’s Department of Mental Health. Mark Stringer, director of the mental health department, voiced his concerns over not being able to provide services to all those in need.

“We have long waiting lists for a lot of our services,” Stringer said.

Valerie Huhn, director of Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities, discussed seven programs the state has for people with developmental disabilities and explained why there are waitlists in those programs. One in-home care program had 354 people on the waitlist, as of Monday.

“It’s really about money, dollars and not about slots,” Huhn said. “The governor recommended $30.3 million for 1,302 individuals to access both residential and in-home services. The ... budget only included $8.5 million.”

Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, found these issues troubling.

“The waiting list — that always bothers me,” Sater said. “We don’t like to see it happen. It’s been an ongoing problem.”

Richard Gowdy, director of the Missouri Division of Behavioral Health, discussed how these waiting periods affect whether or not people get help.

“If you can imagine getting the nerve up to try to get treatment for a mental health or substance abuse disorder, and finally call, and you get told, ‘come in in three weeks’, you can imagine many of those people don’t make it back,” Gowdy said.

Like Huhn, Gowdy went into detail describing the different behavioral mental health programs in Missouri. He listed more than 20 different programs that handle mental health-related issues like opioid addiction, suicide and compulsive gambling.

Rep. Jeffrey Messenger, R-Republic, said the joint committee is tasked with looking at 40 to 50 public assistance programs.

“I think it’s important that our committee get up to speed and get educated,” he said. “We’re all about the outcomes for our people.”

Missouri lawmakers look to find a more efficient way to access and understand this information from the department of mental health.

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