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"Absolute disaster looming”: County Leaders Speak on Mental Health Funding

News Date: Friday, June 21, 2024

capitol
Given the severity of the situation, Pennsylvania counties are hopeful that the General Assembly and Administration will seriously address county mental health funding in the upcoming state budget.
As budget negotiations heat up, county leaders from across Pennsylvania conducted an interactive, virtual discussion around the critical need in their communities for increased state investments in the community mental health system, which is on the verge of collapse.

“I cannot emphasize enough the absolute disaster that is looming in our immediate future,” said Dauphin County Mental Health Administration Andrea Kepler. “Today, we support a total of almost 2000 individuals (in Dauphin County) with these services, and 300 are on the waitlist.”

In the Governor’s budget proposal, the community mental health system would see just a $20 million increase. While there was a $20 million increase in the 2023-2024 state budget, Kepler said her county’s share of that barely covered the utility bills.

“That translated to $374,000 for Dauphin County, which probably backed up utility expenditures for one residential program this year. That’s how far it got us,” she said. “It got us nowhere close to expanding services or addressing waiting list issues.”

To avoid a complete collapse of the system, counties are calling for a significant investment for community mental health services for the 2024-2025 fiscal year – an increase of $250 million above current funding levels.  

“We, at the local level, are trying to be as innovative as we possibly can by working across county lines, and figuring out ways to solve the problems,” said Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick. “Instead of pointing fingers, we want to create the solution. But part of that is having a funding partner that understands the level of commitment it’s going to take to sustain these front-end services.”

For years, counties have been struggling to maintain community-based services such as outpatient treatment for adults and children, crisis intervention and support for individuals leaving state facilities.

Clinton County Commissioner Jeff Snyder said the lack of funding also negatively impacts adequate staffing.

“We need additional funding for professional help. In our county, we have advertised, for over a year, for a psychologist position. We’ve been unable to fill it because the salary is not attractive enough,” Snyder said. “Those issues need to be addressed so we have the professional staff available to supply the services we need for not only our youth, but for adults also.”

Given the severity of the situation, Pennsylvania counties are hopeful that the General Assembly and Administration will seriously address county mental health funding in the upcoming state budget.

“I think I would want the governor and the legislature to understand that the lack of investment in this part of the system really impacts other parts of our communities and other systems. We see more people sitting in emergency rooms waiting for beds. We see more people sitting in a psychiatric hospital because there is no place for them to move on to. We see people having longer stays than people without mental health challenges in our jails because there is nowhere for them to move on to,” said Pam Howard, Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services—Office of MH/DD/EI. “You can see where investing in this part of the system would be so helpful to stop this overflow into other systems.”