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County Leaders Call for Immediate Action on Mental Health Funding

News Date: Thursday, May 9, 2024

“We do not have time for political posturing. We cannot afford to bicker or play games with something as important as the mental health of our population,”
In the heart of Mental Health Awareness Month, county leaders from across the Commonwealth gathered at the Pennsylvania Capitol on Thursday to call on the General Assembly and Shapiro Administration to take immediate action, within the FY 2024-2025 state budget process, to increase funding for county mental health services, which leaders say are on the verge of collapse. 

“It has been amazing to see all the strides we have made, as a society, in creating awareness around the importance of mental health,” said Berks County Commissioner and CCAP President Michael Rivera. “But we are at a critical crossroads in Pennsylvania when it comes to mental health services, and that should concern every single person living in Commonwealth.”

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. 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.   

Annie Strite, mental health administrator for Cumberland/Perry Counties emphasized the dangerously unbalanced ratio of funding to increased needs and what could happen if funding levels are not increased. 

“Counties cannot continue to offset the expenses for services where increased expenses are outpacing additional funds,” Strite said. “If service cuts are made, the tragic increases of unmet needs will continue to worsen. It’s quite easy to turn a blind eye to the need and say this doesn’t impact my family, until it does.”

Warden Lesley Loveridge of Indiana County explained how county jails are housing more and more inmates with mental illness, causing issues with staffing, recidivism and safety. 

“Jails were not meant to be mental health facilities, substance use treatment centers, or hospitals.  Today, we are all three,” she said. “Jails are not designed in a way that promote healing and restoration.  They were designed for security and community safety.

Berks County District Attorney John Adams reinforced those thoughts by saying many prosecutors have embraced diversion programs for non-violent crimes where individuals can enroll in a judicially supervised mental health and substance use disorder treatment regimen in lieu of incarceration or standard probation.

"Diversion programs reduce recidivism, strengthen public safety, and improve the quality of life for participants, and usually at a lower cost than long term incarceration," Adams said. "However, these programs only work if there are resources available."

Pennsylvania counties are hopeful that the General Assembly and Administration will seriously address county mental health funding when they reconvene in Harrisburg, given the severity of the situation. 

“We do not have time for political posturing. We cannot afford to bicker or play games with something as important as the mental health of our population,” Rivera said. “While awareness is a wonderful tool, we must eventually turn that awareness into action.”