Travis County considers designating local behavioral health authority

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Travis County commissioners directed staff to convene a stakeholders process to help designate a local behavioral health authority that would support equitable planning for and coordination across mental health and substance use services.

County residents were able to submit public comments Feb. 4-March 5 through an online portal about whether designating a local behavioral health authority in Travis County is a good idea.

“There was not a single response that said a local behavioral health authority is a terrible idea,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said. “The question is in the how and the who.”

Linda Lyman was one of more than 50 people who provided public comment.

“It is inefficient and dangerous to have mental health and substance abuse under two different categories,” Lyman wrote. “Many people will fall through the cracks inevitably created when there are two separate agencies addressing issues that are co-occurring in most individuals affected.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is responsible for designating local behavioral health authorities. The agency accepts applications from local mental health authorities interested in taking on the additional responsibility.

Integral Care has served for 50 years as the local mental health authority for Travis County.

Some of the respondents raised concerns about Integral Care, including around a perceived lack of transparency.

“It’s been a beneficial process for our agency to hear … the feedback, and we’re already incorporating some of the feedback that we’re hearing,” said Ellen Richards, chief strategy officer for Integral Care.

If Travis County chooses to designate a local behavioral health authority, it will be the third community in Texas to do so. The North Texas Behavioral Health Authority is contracted by the Texas HHSC to provide mental health and substance use disorder services to indigent consumers in a six-county region of Dallas. LifePath Systems serves the same role in Collin County.

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    • No, this is not a new taxing authority. Funding for Mental Health Authorities, which exist in every county in the entire State of Texas, comes from the state’s general treasury funds. Moving up to a Behavioral Health Authority would ultimately bring more tax money back to Travis County without any impact to the taxes here. This is all laid out in the Texas Administrative Code if you want a clue.

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Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.
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