Two of the city's community mental health centers face dramatic cutbacks in staffs and services this winter because the D.C. government has been unable so far to compensate for the expiration of U.S. grant funds.
Albert P. Russo, acting director of the District of Columbia, Department of Human Resources, has acknowledged that "certain programs . . . will be severely affected" in the Area B center based at 1125 Spring Rd. NW and the Area C center at 1905 E St. SE.
Russo, in a Dec. 30 letter to Chairman John L. Johnson of the D.C. Mental Health Association, explained that a personnel ceiling currently barred hiring any center employees with city funds after the federal money runs out.
As Russo pointed out in his letter, a federal "growth grant" for the Area B center is scheduled to expire on Jan. 31 and would mean the loss of 43 fulltime staff positions from a total current staff of about 100.
The federal "growth grant" for the Area C center is scheduled to expire March 31 and would bring about the loss of 45 full-time staff positions there.
"In addition the normal reduction of the staffing grant at Area A will reduce that center by two positions," Russo added. "We are, therefore, facing a total reduction of 90 full-time positions principally, involved in direct patient care." The Area A center is based at 3246 P St. NW.
The community mental health centers provide a variety of psychiatric and other services.Federal sponsorship was authorized in 1963 under the late President Kennedy, with centers serving local communities viewed as a promising alternative to remote state mental hospitals. Area B alone currently serves more than 2,000 people, A center official estimated.
Russo noted in his letter to Johnson that the District's budget for the current fiscal year included 12 staff positions for Area B and 11 for Area C.City funding for these would partially offset the losses expected from the federal grant expirations.
Since the human resources department payroll was currently below its own departmental ceiling, Russo continued, he had hoped he could start filling some high-priority positions - including the 23 staff posts at the Area B and Area C centers and some 37 positions needed to staff a new residential treatment center for young people in Area B.
But, the acting director reported, he was told by the city's Office of Budget and Management Systems that the city government as a whole was six positions above its overall personnel ceiling. So long as citywide employment exceeded this ceiling, he wrote, his department could not fill any vacancies.
"There is no doubt that certain programs in Areas B and C will be severely affected," Russo warned. He cited the therapeutic nursery, alcohol treatment, children and youth programs and emergency mental health services as examples.
"We are now in the process of attempting to design a plan which would result in mergers of various programs and perhaps cessation of certain programs" based on priorites in each center's service area, he wrote.
Russo added there appeared to be no hope for federal "distress grant" funding to ease the crisis before September - and even then U.S. aid might fall short of the city's needs.