Bonnaye Mims for State Representative

Rep. Mims Works on Behalf of Mental Health

SOUTHEAST MISSOURIAN: Cottonwood Plan Presented in State Capitol

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

By Samantha Rinehart – Southeast Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Department of Mental Health officials say they plan to fast-track their review of a new financial plan for Cottonwood Residential Treatment Center.

Rep. Kathy Swan of Cape Girardeau and Rep. Donna Lichtenegger of Jackson have worked with Cottonwood staff on a plan that seeks to increase revenue and decrease costs so the mental-health facility for children can remain open. Swan presented the plan Wednesday morning at a House of Representatives appropriations committee meeting, and was joined by more than 15 staff members, supporters and parents of children who have received help from Cottonwood. Lichtenegger is a member of the committee.

Mark Stringer, director of the Division of Behavioral Health, did not offer a date when the representatives could expect to hear back from the state mental health department, but said he recognized the importance of expedience.

If the department approves of the plan, it could save Cottonwood from its scheduled Dec. 31 closure. The local mental health facility’s fate became uncertain in June after a number of steep budget cuts by Gov. Jay Nixon.

“If [the proposal] passes the numbers test, then the next step for us would be to approach the governor’s office to see where to proceed from there,” Stringer said.

Department approval could be the answer to saving the local children’s mental health facility — one of just two such facilities left in Missouri — but acceptance is far from guaranteed.

After Swan shared her financial plan with the committee, state mental health director Keith Schafer seemed to dispute some of the details.

For example, Swan’s plan calls for adjusting and expanding the referral system to help increase revenue. About three years ago, the process was made more restrictive, and Swan said reversing that could mean filling more beds at Cottonwood.

When it was announced earlier this summer the 32-bed facility was on the chopping block, 23 beds were filled. Stringer said at the meeting that number is down to 19.

But Schafer said no arbitrary restrictions were made and offered to send the committee and representatives data revealing the facility’s census numbers over the past eight or nine years.

Schafer also said private facilities could offer children the same services as Cottonwood — a remark that drew criticism from facility staff at the meeting.

Perhaps the biggest critic of that notion was Rod Boyer of Bloomsdale, Missouri. His daughter had spent four years receiving help from private facilities across the state, he said, and none of them made a difference.

Less than two weeks ago, Boyer’s daughter came home from Cottonwood and he said she’s starting her senior year of high school with a brighter outlook for her future.

“She’s actually cleaning her room. She never did that,” he said with a shake of his head. “They taught her a lot down there at Cottonwood. I think they taught her how to continue her life. … She’s handling the stress of school pretty well.”

Boyer made the 2 1/2-hour drive to support the facility he said has done more good for his daughter than all the other private facilities. He was joined by another parent, Heather Young, who traveled farther.

She came from the Bootheel town of Malden, Missouri, armed with a letter written about the benefits her 7-year-old son, William, has received during his time at Cottonwood.

He’s received family counseling and spent four weeks at a private hospital, where Young said he came home “highly overmedicated.” When she started considering Cottonwood, she said her son was adamant he wouldn’t go, fearing it would be no better than the hospital.

But after a month at Cottonwood, Young said his mood had completely turned around. He even thanked her for sending him to the facility.

“And more recently, he asked me that if he comes home and something happens again, would I send him back there,” she wrote in her letter to the commission. “When I asked why, his response was, ‘Because I know that’s where I’ll get the help I need.'”

The new financial plan for the facility would look at reducing costs by renegotiating the property lease with Southeast Missouri State University — a proposal school officials seem open to considering, Swan said.

Committee member Rep. Bonnaye Mims was the most vocal in her support in keeping the facility open. She said in her many years of experience with mental health, it seemed state-operated facilities were often the best places to send children with the greatest mental health needs.

“I hope the numbers match up because I don’t know where they’re going to go or who’s going to take care of these children,” she said.

Cottonwood’s future also could be determined by a Sept. 10 veto session. The House could vote to restore the funds vetoed in the budget, but the governor still has the power to withhold from that money.

To read the story on the SE Missourian site, click here.