Christine Stuart photo
Charles Herrick, chief of psychiatry at Danbury and New Milford Hospitals (Christine Stuart photo)

It’s been almost a month since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget office announced it was cutting about $103 million from the 2016 budget, but hospital officials still aren’t clear about how much has been cut from certain line items.

This became clear during the Behavioral Health Council meeting Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building. Charles Herrick, chief of psychiatry for Danbury and New Milford Hospitals, asked the council if part of the cut involves a $1.5 million grant to coordinate care for patients with behavioral or mental health issues.

Colleen Harrington of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services told Herrick that the grant he’s referring to has been delayed until 2017 to help offset other budget cuts.

Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs at the Office of Policy and Management, said the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is looking at managing its rescissions through delays of new programs, and that the governor’s budget office will work with the agency to make sure the new policy initiative moves forward in the future.

Malloy’s administration cut $103 million from the 2016 budget and $3.6 million of that was in mental health grants to DMHAS. However, getting any information about what’s exactly in that line item has been difficult for stakeholders and lawmakers.

Last week, Rep. Toni Walker, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers are still wading through the cuts in hospital funding trying to figure out how much money will be paid to hospitals and how much federal reimbursement the state will lose as a result of the reduction.

“We’re trying to get a total amount,” Walker said. “We’re trying to figure out what was cut.”

Democratic lawmakers have been planning to submit alternative budget cuts to Malloy for his consideration.

Meanwhile, hospital officials also have been struggling to figure out what programs were cut and what that means for their patients.

Herrick said that without a care coordination team in place to address the needs of this population, they’re going to see an increase in emergency room visits. The program at Herrick’s two hospitals is called the Community Care Team.

“We reach out to the patients. We ask permission to include them in this care plan and then we meet regularly and we go through each patient and discuss what their care needs are,” Herrick said.

Herrick said the Community Care Team program has been very successful. In the past year, Danbury Hospital as reduced its emergency room utilization rate of these high-risk patients by 33 percent.

Herrick said the hospitals are committed to bringing these teams to hospitals across the state, but the funding has to be there to support the expansion.

“It costs money to provide this type of care,” Herrick said.

He said the $1.5 million was going to provide some degree of support to the hospitals, but it also helps the state because it reduces the state’s costs in caring for these patients as well.

The state would be able to save up to $25 million by reducing the visits to hospital emergency departments by Medicaid recipients, according to the Connecticut Hospital Association.

The Connecticut Hospital Association reported that in 2014 more than 25 percent of all inpatient Emergency Department visits to Connecticut hospitals were to treat patients with a principal or secondary diagnosis of a behavioral health disorder. And at least 38 percent of those visits were from Medicaid recipients.

Further, between 2010 and 2014, Connecticut hospitals experienced a 31 percent increase in patient visits with a behavioral health diagnosis.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano criticized the Malloy administration for the cut.

“These community care teams have been proven in hospitals like Middlesex and Danbury to significantly reduce emergency room visits and save more money than they cost.,” Fasano said. “The governor is making cuts with no policy or vision behind them. Why cut programs that save money and improve outcomes for those suffering from mental illness or addiction?”

He said the delay in funding runs contrary to all efforts to improve mental health services and early detection and intervention after the Newtown tragedy.