After years of underfunding, Ottawa County Community Mental Health (CMH) will get an additional $2.5 million from the state over the next four years. Lynne Doyle, director of the county’s CMH, explained in an interview with the Holland Sentinel that this won’t be enough to guarantee financial security for the crucial public health organization. The Ottawa County CMH hasn’t received much general fund money from the state in the past, so the recent decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to redistribute funding is a welcome change. However, Doyle told the Sentinel that the CMH is still paying for services that should be covered by general funding with millage dollars, a type of tax based on property values. Voters approved the tax in 2016 after a series of Medicaid cuts.
Millage money has been supporting the Ottawa County CMH ever since, but the organization has struggled with chronic understaffing and insufficiency of resources even as the number of people seeking their services increases every year. Part of the difficulty stems from the complexity of the CMH funding system in Michigan. CMHs are supposed to get most of their money from the state and federal government through Medicaid. In Ottawa county, funding also comes from the Lakeshore Regional Entity. With Medicaid undergoing reductions and the Lakeshore Regional Entity struggling to meet costs, the Ottawa County CMH has been left scrambling to make up for lost funding. “It’s a balancing act of various buckets of money, and trying to fill the holes and gaps where we’re not providing adequate services,” Doyle said. These problems aren’t restricted to Ottawa County. Many of the organizations in the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan network have experienced similar Many of the organizations in the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan network have experienced similar issues with uneven distribution of state general fund dollars and budget cuts to Medicaid.. When public mental health services lack resources, some of the most vulnerable people are left at risk.
The additional money that Ottawa County will start receiving from the state will mostly go to help individuals who are uninsured or under-insured to pay for much-needed services such as counseling services and substance-use disorder programs. As Doyle explained to the Sentinel, “While the additional funding is good news, we’re still using some of our millage dollars to make up for what general funding should be paying for. We’re by no means out of the woods as far as being completely financially solvent.”