Press Release: Governor’s vetoes pose serious threats to health care services and quality of life
Norton Sound Health Corporation is responding to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recently announced $440 million in budget cuts by strongly urging the Alaska Legislature to fully override the governor’s vetoes. The budget vetoes included $83 million in cuts to the Medicaid program, $12.24 million in behavioral health grants, $2 million used to fully fund the Nome Youth Facility, and $3 million in cuts to the VPSO program.
NSHC is a non-profit, Tribally- owned and managed health care organization, serving a total population of 9,800, which is 76% Alaska Native. Although NSHC receives compact funding from the Indian Health Services to provide health care services to its twenty tribes, the compact funds received provide less than 50% of the funding required to operate the organization. Third-party payor revenue, with Medicaid being the largest payor, allows NSHC to sustain health care services. The $27 million in cuts to the Alaska Adult Dental Medicaid Program alone will result in a $500,000 cost to NSHC. Ongoing cuts to reimbursement of this magnitude will force NSHC to curtail services.
The State of Alaska continues to have high rates of substance use disorders and opioid misuse – a concern for which the past Administration released a disaster declaration and made the Office of Substance Misuse and Addiction Prevention report directly to the governor’s office. Cuts to the Comprehensive Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery grants will impair access to much-needed services for the region’s people living with substance misuse and serious mental illness and for children with severe emotional disturbance. Reduced support will decrease resources and increase dependency on the region’s emergency room, correctional institutions, and the Office of Children’s Services. Furthermore, behavioral health providers at NSHC will need to refer to resources outside of the region, putting greater demand on the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and other providers who already operate within an over-burdened, under-funded system. By cutting the grants, the State of Alaska will only see more crime, more homelessness, and more children removed from their homes.
Statistics show decreased access to treatment correlates with increased crime; with the Governor’s vetoes, children who cannot access treatment and violate the law will no longer have a local facility for detention, but instead will need to be sent out-of-region, away from their cultures and their families. Many of these children will not return to the region, getting lost on the streets as they age-out of the juvenile justice system. The closure of the Nome Youth Facility not only affects the children, but also requires 18 employees to find new work, possibly forcing a relocation outside of the region. And with cuts to the VPSO program, a person’s intervention with law enforcement may be days away, making residents and communities unsafe as Alaska State Troopers negotiate weather and resources to get to a village. VPSOs are also vital links to keeping a person safe who has had a psychotic break or has suicidal ideations, making the cuts to this program even more devastating.
Similar to cutting the budget for the Nome Youth Facility, slashing funding for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation will also shutter the region’s only night-time shelter for homeless individuals. In FY19 (November to May), over 4,000 occupied beds were recorded, up by almost 1,000 beds used from FY18. By not overturning the vetoes, over 200 people may be left homeless in the region.