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Counties struggling as state funding for mental health programs lags behind need for services

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The following is a letter that members of the Bucks County Mental Health/Developmental Programs Advisory Board sent to each of the Bucks County representatives and senators, calling for an increase in state funding for mental health programs.

In addition to Rep. Craig T. Staats, letters were sent to: Sen. Bob Mensch, Rep. John T. Galloway, Sen. Maria Collett, Rep. Kathleen C. Tomlinson, Sen. Robert M. Tomlinson, Rep. Meghan Schroeder, Sen. Steven J. Santarsiero, Rep. Perry S. Warren, Rep. Shelby Labs, Rep. F. Todd Polinchock, Rep. Tina M. Davis, Rep. Frank A. Farry and Rep. Wendi Thomas.

The letter was provided to the Herald by Ada Miller, chair, Advocacy/PR Committee, of West Rockhill, and Dr. Malcolm Burgess, chairman of the Advisory Board, of Buckingham.

Dear Representative Staats,

For over a decade, without any increase in funding from you, our Legislators, Pennsylvania’s 67 counties have been unnecessarily struggling to provide crucial mental health services to our most vulnerable population. At a time of documented increased demand, Bucks County is experiencing a whopping 34% reduction in purchasing power. Our community infrastructure to support mental health prevention efforts and maintain services to individuals with serious mental health needs is crumbling. Our service providers are asked to continue the same level of service to our residents, but at a 14-year-old funding level. Simply put, $1M in purchases now costs $1.34M. This is unacceptable.

Gov. Wolf proposes spending $36.6 million from the taxpayer-supported General Fund in FY 2022-23 for mental health. This will restore some of a decade-old cut in state aid to county-run programs but, for sustainability, we also need an annual built-in cost of living increase. As you know, ARPA funds, reinvestment funding and annual retained earnings are strictly one-time funding sources. We must have economic stability. Bucks County relies on the state’s Human Services Block Grant as our primary funding stream and uses these dollars to serve individuals who are uninsured or whose medical assistance or commercial insurance does not pay for the service needed.

Examples of these services include:

–         mental health supported Housing

– forensic diversion activities

– crisis services

–         mental health prevention, education, and early intervention efforts are extremely valuable in keeping individuals in their own community, reducing the need to access higher more costly levels of service, and averting interaction with our law enforcement and potential incarceration.

– Suicide education, awareness, prevention, and training programs, including afterschool programs, build resilience. Data supports the effectiveness of these efforts as evidenced by a decrease in deaths by suicide of 15-20 in CY’s 2020 and 2021.

The Block Grant is also supporting our county’s new initiatives, some of which are still in development:

– Mental Health Court and affiliated mental health/substance use housing

– The expanding Co-Responder Program

– Co-Occurring Mental Health/Substance Use Track of Drug Court

– Crisis Response and Stabilization Center

Residential housing support consumes 55% of our MH Base Funding dollars. Real estate prices are surging in Bucks County. For-profit management companies are now scooping up apartment complexes, setting rent above fair market value and pricing us out of what we can pay our housing providers. We are currently scrambling to secure bed capacity to continue housing 20 displaced individuals. With Governor Wolf’s proposed $36.6M in Base funding and built-in annual cost-of-living increase, landlords can be incentivized. The county needs a stable and dependable funding source for success to meet the needs of our expanding mental health population.

While the 2015 Medicaid expansion was incredibly helpful, it does not cover every individual, and not every category applies. Our Bucks County mental health programs not only help individuals seamlessly assimilate into our communities, but they also prevent costly higher levels of care and reduce police interaction and incarceration. Sadly, because of inadequate and static State funding, our programs are experiencing reduced capacity (or closing entirely), leases are being terminated, staff is leaving for better paying jobs, and housing is prohibitively expensive and unattainable. Let’s change this.

We need you to approve Gov. Wolf’s proposed $36.6M, along with added protection against inflation with a built-in annual cost of living increase. Your commitment to our mental health population and the County programs that serve them is crucial. Our Bucks County residents with mental health needs deserve to be treated responsibly, with dignity, and with parity.

We can work together to serve our community and give these individuals a light at the end of their dark tunnel.

Sincerely,

Dr. Malcolm Burgess, Chairman

Bucks County Mental Health/Developmental Programs Advisory Board


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