Mental health funding boost to decrease waiting lists, help at-risk populations

Mental health funding boost to decrease waiting lists, help at-risk populationsIn 2011, Texas was ranked 49th in per capita spending on mental health by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a California-based nonprofit focused on health care issues in the U.S. Since then, state legislators have approved two consecutive budgets that feature increases in mental health funding, including a more than $150 million total increase for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 fiscal years.


New funds will be used in four key areas: mental health services for adults, mental health services for children, community crisis services and substance abuse prevention, intervention and treatment.


Funding for adults specifically received a $34 million boost, which is expected to provide access to services for 10,000 more adults statewide in 2016 and 2017 compared to the previous two years, according to Bill Kelly, director of policy and government relations for Mental Health America Greater Houston.


“With $33 million additional dollars in crisis services, the numbers are even better,” Kelly said. “Over 31,000 more people will receive crisis residential and outpatient services this biennium.”


However, with an estimated 160,000 people in Harris County believed to be suffering from severe mental illness, there is still a long way to go, Kelly said.


The funding of home- and community-based services in the state health services budget is particularly important to focus on in Harris County, Kelly said. The closest state hospitals to Houston offering mental health treatment—one in Rusk and one in Austin—are more than 150 miles away.




“Over 31,000 more people will receive crisis residential and outpatient services this biennium.”


—Bill Kelly, director of policy and government relations for Mental Health America Greater Houston



Officials with Memorial Hermann Health Systems advocated for more home-based and community-based mental health funding as well.


“There is a huge need for that in our community,” Government Relations Director Ashlea Quinonez said. “If someone is suffering from mental health issues, having resources available in the community helps make sure [he or she is] not getting to a critical state.”


The funding boost from the 2013 session proved to have real benefits for the Harris Center for Mental Health and Intellectual/Developmental Disorders, formerly known as the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County. By increasing the number of outpatient teams and enhancing services, the center was able to eliminate its 1,800-person external waiting list, Executive Director Steven Schnee said.


New funding will help the center increase its monthly patient base from 9,800 to 11,000 by the end of fiscal year 2015, Schnee said.


Several Cy-Fair nonprofits that work with intellectually and developmentally disabled populations do not stand to benefit directly from the funding boost, but officials said they are happy to see more attention being paid to the issue.


“We are funded through the Medicaid program and donations,” Reach Unlimited Executive Director Kathi Schmidt said. “We work with psychologists and mental health professionals, so we are aware of how much this helps.”


Mental health funding boost to decrease waiting lists, help at-risk populations

By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.