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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Budget woes close center for mentally ill children

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — One of the state’s few treatment centers for severely mentally ill children will close next month because of budget woes, officials said Tuesday.

The Martin Center in Bellingham provides intense, residential care for children with the most persistent and serious mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia.

The center’s operators complain that state reimbursements have fallen far short of the real cost of care. Catholic Community Services, which owns and operates the center for the state, warned last month that the center would shut down at the end of June unless the state could come through with $250,000 to save it.

“They haven’t budged from their original position,” said Thomas MacIntyre, vice president for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.

The state pays the Martin Center $339 per child, per day. But the actual daily cost is about $415, MacIntyre said. Over the past year, he said, Catholic Community Services has poured about $120,000 into the center. He said the private, nonprofit agency can’t keep subsidizing the center without hurting its other programs.

The Martin Center, which has space for 12 children, is one of four residential psychiatric treatment centers funded by the state and run by private agencies. The others are in Spokane, Seattle and Tacoma, and they have a total of 49 beds. A state-run center at the Western State mental hospital in Lakewood has 47 beds for children.

About half the children at the Martin Center will be discharged before the center closes. The others may transfer to another center. Martin Center teachers worry the transition will damage children who desperately need security and stability.

“We are working to have a transition plan for children who remain in the program,” said Karl Brimner, director of director of the Mental Health Division of the Department of Social and Health Services.

Brimner said the centers in Spokane, Seattle and Tacoma may add some beds. But the total number of treatment spots for mentally ill kids will decline. All the centers already have waiting lists.

“It will just put additional pressure on the rest of the system,” MacIntyre said.

The youth treatment centers cost a lot because of their small size and because the patients need intense, one-on-one care, often from highly trained professionals. The state started paying for the small centers to avoid warehousing mentally ill kids in large, impersonal institutions.

Brimner said his agency will explore the possibility of creating a therapeutic foster care program for seriously mentally ill children, using the Martin Center’s $1.5 million annual budget. But it would take at least a year to get such a program started.

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