An exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation has uncovered serious concerns about state funding for critical mental health services in Cuyahoga County.
NewsChannel 5 Investigators found Cuyahoga County, the most populated county in the state, receives the least amount of dollars per capita for mental health support services. Those services include housing, crisis hotlines, and support groups.
According to information we obtained from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Cuyahoga County received $405,500 during the 2015 fiscal year.
At just 32 cents per capita, it is the smallest amount of dollars per capita of Ohio's 88 counties. The average is $4.46 per capita.
"That's wrong. That's blatantly wrong. And it continues to happen," said Bill Denihan, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County.
"We should get close to $6 million," he said.
The ADAMHS board is a quasi-independent government agency which plans, funds and monitors the mental health and addiction services delivered to county residents. The ADAMHS Board is one of 50 boards coordinating the public behavioral health system in Ohio's counties.
NewsChannel 5 Investigators also reviewed the total amount of money Cuyahoga County received from the state's $128.3 million fund for mental health and addiction recovery services.
Again, we found Cuyahoga County gets shortchanged.
$9.3 million was budgeted for the 2016 fiscal year, approximately seven percent of the available funds. However, approximately 11 percent of the state's population resides in Cuyahoga County.
"I don't have a problem with them (other counties) getting that money at all. Because I know they need it," said Denihan.
"I would ask for equity in terms of population as it relates to our citizens of Cuyahoga County," he said.
"If we don't have the funding to take care of them when they're mildly or moderately ill, they become really ill and cost us more money," he said.
Tracy Plouck, the director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, decides how to distribute the dollars to Ohio counties.
Plouck declined NewsChannel5 Investigators' numerous requests for an on-camera interview, but an Ohio MHAS spokesperson sent us the following statement on her behalf:
“The funding formula for mental health has been an area of debate for more than a decade and pre-dates the current Administration. The Department has engaged numerous times in conversation with county boards across the state (most recently in 2012), seeking their input on revisions to the formula, but there has never been consensus on a solution that avoids ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.’ I am open to continued discussions on changes to the distribution formula that makes the most sense for the state as a whole."
NewsChannel 5 Investigators also reached out to Ohio Governor John Kasich's office about the funding formula. Kasich's spokesperson, Joe Andrews, sent us the following statement:
" We understand that the local behavioral health funding formula has been a source of disagreement among counties for many years, and that the Cuyahoga County Board director proposed shifting $4.7 million from other counties into his budget. The state is open to a change if the county association can reach an agreement, but the state's priority has been to increase overall system capacity, which has occurred on an unprecedented scale.
For example, as a direct result of the state's Medicaid expansion, 15,000 previously uninsured Cuyahoga County residents who needed mental health and addiction treatment services received $224 million in Medicaid-covered services, including $35 million specifically for mental health and addiction treatment services. (Statewide an estimated 400,000 residents with some sort of behavioral health need obtained health care coverage through the Medicaid expansion)."
"How can we get more money? What do we have to do?" said Christal Owen, a certified peer support group leader at the Life Exchange Center, a mental health support program on Cleveland's East Side.
Owens suffers from bipolar and schizophrenia. She said the center's programs help and other members stay healthy.
With more money, they could offer transportation to help members attend meetings and classes at the center.
"It's important we be able to provide this in the community," she said.
"We need something here to keep people out of trouble, to keep people having hope, to keep people happy, to keep people strong," she said.