Pennsylvania released a report outlining recommendations from the Behavioral Health Commission for Adult Behavioral Health. Established by Act 54 of 2022, the multi-disciplinary commission was charged with making recommendations to the General Assembly for the allocation of $100 million in one-time American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding included to support adult behavioral health needs in the 2022-23 Fiscal Code.
“The commission’s work is an important first step in charting a path for investments in a system that so greatly needs our support, and I am grateful for its work and leadership. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to get this funding out to our county partners and the behavioral health field,” said Acting Human Services Secretary Meg Snead. “But as this work winds down, we must not lose the momentum we’ve built. Mental illness and behavioral health impact all aspects of our lives, and we must continue this work on behalf of the Pennsylvanians who need a responsive, resilient behavioral health system and the people who choose to do this critical, life-saving work.”
“It was an honor to serve in a leadership role alongside DHS’ Chief Psychiatric Officer, Dr. Dale Adair, and among many qualified experts and behavioral health professionals with the common goal of improving the behavioral health system for all Pennsylvanians,” said Acting Insurance Commissioner Mike Humphreys. “Our report is reflective of current challenges experienced by individuals accessing behavioral health services as well as by those health care heroes providing the critical services. Every dollar matters in this challenged behavioral health space, and we are hopeful that these funds help to improve behavioral health quality and capacity for those most in need.”
“Pennsylvanians in need of behavioral health services are counting on all of us to work toward implementing these recommendations,” said Acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson. “I look forward to improving equitable access to behavioral health care through innovative approaches like telemedicine and by integrating services into primary care settings.”
“I applaud the work and due diligence by this commission and the Wolf Administration’s continued focus on addressing behavioral health needs and expanding access to care based on those needs,” said Department of Drugs and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith. “I look forward to working toward the commission’s collective goals including destigmatizing care for behavioral health and substance use disorders as well as bolstering and expanding prevention and intervention programs.”
Act 54 of 2022 established the Behavioral Health Commission for Adult Mental Health as an advisory body comprised of leadership from state agencies (DHS, PID, DDAP, DOH and PCCD), representation from the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives, communities around Pennsylvania, individuals with a behavioral health diagnosis, and clinical representation across various disciplines of the continuum of care.
“When an individual’s behavioral and mental health needs go unmet, the ripple effects on the community at large can be staggering,” said Sen. Maria Collett. “While testifiers from across the Commonwealth made clear that the funding at the Commission’s disposal is just a drop in the bucket of what is needed to adequately support the types of programs needed, I am optimistic that they will do good and that our work has illuminated a path forward.”
“This report represents an excellent starting point. The expert advice and feedback given by appointees can help the state start down a path of truly making long-term, sustained investments in mental health care throughout the state,” said Rep. Mike Schlossberg. “I fully support its enactment and look forward to working with my legislative colleges to pass this through the legislature and send it to Governor Wolf for his signature.”
“This report gives us a critical roadmap for advancing mental health care and services in the commonwealth,” said Rep. Wendi Thomas. “The next step is to craft legislation to put these recommendations into action and share them with my colleagues to make these reforms a reality. It was my honor to serve on this commission.”
The commission was charged with establishing recommendations for use of the funding.
In recognition of the on-going need for support for the behavioral health system, the following areas are recommended for investment of this one-time funding:
- Stabilizing, Strengthening, and Expanding the Behavioral Health Workforce: Recognizing the strain on this system given the growing need for behavioral health supports, $37 million should be directed to recruitment and retention initiatives to attract qualified professionals to this field and assist those who do this work so they are not overly stressed and burning out.
- Improving Criminal Justice and Public Safety Systems: The commission recommends that $23.5 million be used to support enhanced programming for people with behavioral health needs who enter or are involved with the criminal justice system. Recommendations include competitive grant funding and funding to the counties to provide evidence-based mental health and substance use disorder services while people are incarcerated and upon release, develop and expand pre-arrest diversion and co-responder models, and expand training and services to address the needs of people with co-occurring behavioral health needs and an intellectual disability or autism who become involved with the criminal justice system.
- Expanding Capacity for Services and Supports: Behavioral health services must be accessible in all communities around Pennsylvania. The commission recommends using $39 million to increase availability of behavioral health services by expanding existing and building capacity for new life-saving local crisis response like walk-in and mobile crisis services, supporting suicide prevention and local call centers, increasing integration of primary care with behavioral health, addressing social determinants of health that can exacerbate behavioral health challenges, and supporting peer-led and peer-support services to assist Pennsylvanians with behavioral health needs.
Beyond recommendations for use of the $100 million in one-time funding, the commission’s work generated two ongoing recommendations. The commission would like the see the forum continue with a broader scope or ask that the General Assembly establish a new body that can be dedicated to on-going analysis and engagement in improving the health of Pennsylvania’s behavioral health system. The commission also recommended the General Assembly make a substantial, sustained investment in base funding for county-level mental health programs, which were cut by 10% in 2012 and have not seen a substantial increase to meet cost of care and needs of the present day.