Mental health care funding, facilities, progress still lacking in State of Texas

Mental health care funding dodges cuts in Texas’ 85th legislative session

Texas’ 85th legislative session will not make cuts to mental health care funding—despite having to make cuts in other areas.

Gov. Greg Abbott and state leadership have asked state agencies to scale back funding requests by 4 percent in the 85th legislative session because of anticipated budget deficits related to the drop in the price of oil, said Annalee Gulley, director of public policy and government affairs for Mental Health America of Greater Houston.

“Exemptions to this cut have been granted for certain priority areas– including public education, border security, Child Protective Services and mental health resources,” she said.

Before the 84th session ended in June 2015, the Texas Legislature passed a budget that increased mental health funds by $298 million.

“While we’ve seen funding increases for mental and behavioral health services during the past two legislative sessions, the allocated resources were simply not sufficient to compensate for the historic underfunding of state-provided mental-  and behavioral-health services, especially when coupled with Texas’ rapid population growth,” Gulley said.

Long waitlists for hospital beds in psychiatric care facilities are putting an increasing burden on criminal justice facilities, she said. The dilapidated state of most of the publicly funded psychiatric hospitals is attributed to the amount of per capita spending on mental health services.

She said the Harris County Jail is often referred to as the largest mental institution in the state of Texas.

Gulley said improvements after the last legislative session can be attributed in part to the 2015 formation of the House Select Committee on Mental Health.

“Since its formation, the Select Committee on Mental Health has heard testimony addressing adolescent mental health, crisis intervention, access to care, the criminal justice system, health insurance coverage, veterans and homelessness, among others,” she said.

The $298 million provided by the 84th session allowed the Harris Center for Mental Health to eliminate its waiting list for beds, but it has since been reinstated due to population growth, Gulley said.

Senate Bills 239 and 55 passed in the 84th session, providing millions of dollars for mental health in the past year. SB 239 provides $5 million in tuition repayment assistance for mental health professionals. SB 55 coordinates private and public funding to create a grant program for veterans.

Gulley said MHA of Greater Houston is working closely with other organizations to ensure a broad base of support for critical issues that include behavioral health workforce development, school behavioral health and perinatal mental health. She said Medicaid expansion is the top goal for mental health care funds approved after the next legislative session.

“While we are encouraged state leaders have prioritized funding for mental health resources, we anticipate a tough road ahead for all funding requests in the 85th Legislature,” Gulley said.

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