Minority directors of about 50 community mental health centers that face loss of critical federal funds met in Washington this week to plan for the survival of their programs under the Carter administration.
The black, Hispanic, Puerto Rican and Asian American center heads also debated the nature of special mental health needs among minority groups they serve. They formed an organization to oversee these factors. There are about 550 community mental health centers nationwide.
However, the directors of three centers run by the Department of Human Resources in the District - the city with the highest proportion of black residents in the country - were not represented at the three-day session.
The District is acutely affected by the expiration of federal eight-year staffing grants that provided initial funds to these centers. About $1.5 million to DHR centers in Southeast and Northwest will end this year, cutting off more than 80 staff positions and severely curtailing patient services, unless alternative funds are found.
In addition, about $200,000 in federal funds to DHR's third center, in Georgetown, is endangered by non-compliance with federal standards. A fourth center serving city residents is located on the grounds of federally operated St. Elizabeths Hospital, and is not controlled by DHR.
Acting DHR director Albert P. Russo said the three directors "should have participated" in the conference Russo said he did not know why they were absent. DHR's Area B center, at 1125 Spring Rd. NW, was represented by staff members, but the director was absent, because of a previous commitment, the workers said.
"We are very sorry that none of the three DHR directors is here," said Barbara Tobelman, head of the D.C. Mental Health Association, which has protested the city's failure to provide continuation money for its centers.
Continuation of the centers' programs nationally is crucial, according to conference coordinator Chester Jones, head of a Philadelphia community mental health center. If the facilities close "we might as well get a big bus and haul inner-city patients out to state mental hospitals where they will be warehoused," Jones said.
In an attempt to prevent "warehousing", the Department of Health, Education and Welfare has poured nearly $1 billion into staffing the centers since they were created in 1969. It was envisioned, however, that state and local governments would be prepared to pick up the funding after eight-year grants expired. Many have not done so, the District included.