(The Center Square) — Pennsylvania lawmakers are planning to spend $100 million on behavioral health, and a committee has recommended spending the money on workforce development, service expansion and criminal justice.
So says a report of the Behavioral Health Commission, established in 2022 by Act 54 to find out how best to treat mental health problems, drug addiction, payment problems and to improve healthcare for employees and patients.
The $100 million in federal funds has already been allocated by the General Assembly, but the legislature has yet to pass a bill on how to spend it. The report suggested giving provinces and local groups wide leeway in how to spend the funds based on local judgment and suggested that “weight should be given to culturally responsive initiatives that further promote equality in historically under-resourced communities.”
The recommendations include $39 million to expand treatment and services such as walk-in crisis centers and telehealth infrastructure, $37 million to recruit and retain healthcare professionals, and $23.5 million for criminal justice and public safety improvements to better address behavior problems. to grab. Another $500,000 would be earmarked for evaluation and accountability efforts to assess how the $100 million was spent.
“There’s a real sense of urgency, especially given the current mental health situation in the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Allentown, who sat on the committee to discuss the report during a Senate Health and Human Services hearing. “I would honestly make the argument that Pennsylvania has failed to adequately fund mental health across the board.”
Lawmakers stressed that the funding is a start and more would be needed to make a sustainable commitment to behavioral health.
“We have a mental health crisis,” said Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Richboro. “The $100 million won’t solve all of our problems… if we can recognize mental health and start there, maybe they won’t end up in crisis.”
Thomas described the recommendations as “trying to put a dent in the system everywhere” to make concrete improvements.
“Our biggest problem was stigma. As I sit here today, I think our biggest problem is access,” said Thomas. “We have a mental health crisis today and it’s up to us to take action to do something to help solve it.”
In addition to spending the $100 million, the commission also proposed “sustained increases” in basic provincial funding for the behavioral health system.
“Additional sustainable funding could prevent further erosion of the Pennsylvania behavioral health landscape,” the report said.
That funding could be crucial for underserved areas where competitive wages lure potential health workers away.
“In some cases, fast food restaurants and other unskilled employment positions may offer more competitive wages and better benefits for work that is less emotionally demanding,” the report said. “Pennsylvanians need more professional behavioral health resources. The committee recommends that funding be directed towards efforts to retain and recruit healthcare professionals and support professional development within the workforce.
A reiterated concern at the hearing was spending the money wisely.
“We’ve poured hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars into this issue,” said Sen. Michele Brooks, R-Greenville. “From my perspective, we have another $100 million – we need it to be effective. Continuing to throw money away without seeing the mistakes of the past will not be effective and address the problem.
Industry experts were pleased to hear how the money will be spent, but warned of the work (and funding) required going forward.
“While one-time funding is certainly helpful, it will not support a new program or initiative,” said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. “It’s a quick fix, it’s not a long-term fix.”