“You do pick up on some individuals in those programs and get them into care who could well be the loners or someone who needs care down the road,” said John Magill, director of the S.C. Department of Mental Health, during a House subcommittee Wednesday.
“If we had some additional funding I’d make sure there were at least some presence in every school district.”
He said 12,000-13,000 school children receive mental health services per year, and that the state has 179 counselors working in 391 schools. Magill said the number of school counselors has fallen over the years because of budget cuts to his agency and to schools.
The topic of early intervention and identification came up frequently during the hearing, with lawmakers referencing last month’s shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
During his presentation, Magill emphasized other concerns: how to increase the number of psychiatrists, control costs for the treatment of sexual predators, and replace decrepit vehicles that frequently break down.
The agency’s $73.7 million request includes $56 million for roof replacements, deferred maintenance, renovations and construction at sites across the state.
The agency is also asking for a one-time infusion of $5 million to manage inpatient electronic medical records and $1 million for automated pharmaceutical dispensing machinery. Other one-time requests were for $126,000 for five new law enforcement vehicles and $556,000 for vehicles to use to transport patients.
Rep. Kris Crawford wondered how volume of patients and costs would grow if the definition of those who need treatment were broadened.
The Florence Republican and physician said he has to release patients from the emergency room who seemed to need mental health services but didn’t meet the narrow legal criteria, such as posing a clear danger.
He said he wouldn’t have been able to help the mother of Adam Lanza, who fatally shot 26 others, mostly children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month.
“There’s clearly interest in making sure that we get a lasso around these folks who don’t quite meet that very stringent definition ... but bother us when they walk out of our emergency rooms.”
Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting is part of the budget writing process for the state spending plan for fiscal year 2014. It begins July 1 of this year and ends June 30 of 2014.