The Meet and Greet reception was held at CrossPoint Community Church in Gadsden. One of the main topics of concern is the 2013 budget and how it will impact the Alabama Department of Public Health. Baugh and staff members are holding these meetings to give consumers and advocates a realistic view of what the state is facing and also to get their input for their records.
“We are at a point that is unprecedented,” said Bill Fuller with Alabama Family Trust, who gave the opening welcoming remarks. “The leadership in this state will have to make serious decisions about which agencies survive, which agencies go forward.”
“Your job is to help us gather evidence that will build a compelling case for the jury, the jury being the legislature,” said Fuller.
“We are blessed to have a governor in Alabama, Governor Robert Bentley, that has a tremendous heart for the mental health community, families and survivors,” said Fuller.
“But tonight, you are the most important part of this program because your concerns will be part of a record,” said Fuller.
Fuller then introduced Commissioner Baugh who discussed in further detail the purpose of the meeting.
“I want to thank you all for allowing me to be here tonight,” said Baugh. “I am very happy to be here. One of the things that is wonderful about this area is the strength of survivors in this community and surrounding counties, the work that is being done. You have a very strong survivor network of people who have provided care whether it is intellectual disability, substance abuse or mental illness and so I would like to congratulate our group of providers that are here tonight that are truly doing God’s work in my opinion caring for the people.”
After being appointed by Gov. Bentley, Baugh was sworn in as the Alabama Department of Mental Health commissioner in January 2011.
“We had our first cabinet meeting and I was told to be prepared,” said Baugh. “I was told that we may have the general fund budget cut by 20 percent. And I knew that my old job hadn’t been filled yet, but then I thought, ‘no, I am up for a challenge.’”
“Most of my experience has been in the private sector,” said Baugh. “With that, I really have been operating our agency along with a wonderful leadership team And I am telling you these things because I want you to know that the department of mental health today is very different than the department of mental health a year ago today.”
“It is different because of the way we do things,” said Baugh. “In 2011, the governor had no choice but to declare proration, at 15 percent for all state agencies. As a result of that proration, we had carry forward monies. We were able to use that carry forward money and not have to cut our providers in 2011.”
“Most of my background in hospital administration,” said Baugh. “I know working in a hospital where the recovery and treatment really happens. Hospitals are great in providing that safe environment but true recovery and true have to be at the community level by people providing outstanding quality care.”
“I would not cut community programs if I could avoid it for 2011 and we were able to not cut community programs for 2011,” said Baugh.
2012 presented, Baugh said, presented a different picture.
“We faced two shortfalls, because we operate state hospitals on one side and on the other side we had our community programs,” said Baugh. “We had a $20 million deficit on those state hospital side and a $29 million deficit on our community programs side. We really looked at our operations at the state agencies to see where we could streamline ooperations where we could make cuts that didn’t impact the delivery or quality of and at the same time we didn’t have to cut community programs.”
“We’ve reduced our combined deficit for 2012 of approximately $29 million down to approximately $6 million for 2012,” said Baugh. “I am very proud of that. I still firmly believe that we are going to identify another $6 million in cost savings and put our deficit to zero for 2012 and then we won’t have to make any cuts for 2012.”
“When we cut community programs we are cutting our safety net for people who need our help, including people who have developmental disabilities, substance abuse problems, mental illness,” said Baugh.
For the past few years, Baugh said, Alabama has had a windfall from oil and gas leases which helped the general fund budget. That money will no longer be available in 2013.
“You play a part in that as a community,” said Baugh. “We want to empower our community, conseumers, advocates to step up. We are the silent majority. There are more people out there like us than not. And what I am saying to everybody is we can’t afford to be silent any longer.”
Baugh then gave consumers and advocates their chance to speak out.
Consumer after consumer, including some with depres
sion, suicide and other issues shared how they are now able to function because of the treatment they have received at the local level. They made passionate pleas to state officials not to cut funding for local services.
Fuller and members of Baugh’s staff took notes and will compile these comments to be submitted to legislative officials.
Baugh said she envisions a future legislative session in which lawmakers will have to go through each item, line by line and ask themselves, is this an essential part of state government?
“We want to educate community, consumers, advocates and anyone else who has an interest in the Department of Mental health and the work we do,” said Baugh.
“We need you to let your voice be heard, let your legislators know but also let your finance director know as well that the Department of Mental Health is an essential part of the state government.”