Mental Health

Pa. lawmakers will have to improve psychological well being protection internet | Opinion

By Tina Clymer

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an enormous toll on the mental health and well-being of countless Pennsylvanians across every age group and in every corner of our state. County-level data and numerous studies confirm what many of us see every day: Our friends, neighbors and family members are suffering with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Families are dealing with the death of loved ones. Many are grappling with financial insecurity as jobs and businesses were lost and the cost of essentials rise. Regrettably, crime and substance abuse have also been increasing. Admissions to treatment centers and recovery houses have spiked as more Pennsylvanians are confronting the disease of alcohol or drug addictions.

It is important to understand that while the pandemic changed everything, our system of care was beginning to fray long before COVID-19 struck. The “base funding” for these services have been flat funded for more than a decade. In fact, this funding was cut by 10 percent during this period. Mental health base funding is the foundation that the entire system relies upon. It is used for everything from assistance programs in schools, crisis services, housing, to varying levels of mental health treatment.

In Pennsylvania, counties collaborate with provider organizations to deliver vital services on behalf of the state. Throughout the pandemic we have been able to continue to provide these services by working together. While we instituted commonsense mitigation steps such as social distancing to prevent the virus from spreading, other barriers such as interruptions to public transportation and the inability to meet in person or in a group setting created enormous limitations for some of the Pennsylvanians we serve.

Tina Clymer is chair of the Pennsylvania Association of County Administrators of Mental Health and Developmental Services and the Mental Health and Developmental Services administrator for Carbon, Pike and Monroe counties.

Still, the increased demand for virtually all mental health services sparked by the pandemic and the chronic underfunding has pushed the state’s safety net to the limit. Without a meaningful increase in state funding as part of the 2022-23 state budget, vulnerable Pennsylvanians will pay an unacceptable price.

This long-term lack of sufficient funding limits the county from providing adequate and necessary rate increases to providers to keep pace with escalating costs – particularly labor and benefits. Providers cannot hire or retain staff to meet the demand, and this was true before the pandemic. Many of our programs have been reduced or eliminated entirely. Waiting lists have been abandoned because we cannot find enough staff to even promise that, eventually, we can provide care.

These cuts and reductions have had a profound impact across all public resources including local police departments, schools, and hospital emergency departments. Mental health services are part of the broader system of care, but when they are unavailable, local police departments are called on to help residents manage or respond to untreated mental health issues. Emergency rooms and even county jails are becoming the “safety net” for far too many Pennsylvanians who do not have access to the treatment that they need.

If state lawmakers continue to fail to provide adequate and increased funding to state mental health services, people will continue to suffer, the vicious cycle of imprisonment for mental illness will continue, and our jails and prisons will continue to overcrowd. Doing nothing to address the funding issue is a costly choice on its own.

Providers and county leaders have been good partners with the state and have efficiently managed the state investment, including the recent infusion of COVID-19 relief funds. But we need more help if we are to continue delivering these services to our most vulnerable residents. We are now close to a point of no return. The pandemic has pushed our entire system of care to the edge. County commissioners across the state, including those in Dauphin and Cumberland, have made the increase in this funding a top priority for the upcoming budget.

I urge all legislators to support a meaningful increase to funding for these services as part of the 2022-23 state budget which is under consideration right now in Harrisburg. I also ask your readers to contact their legislators and request the same. Lives depend on it.

Tina Clymer is chair of the Pennsylvania Association of County Administrators of Mental Health and Developmental Services and the Mental Health and Developmental Services administrator for Carbon, Pike and Monroe counties.

More:

Cumberland County needs more mental health resources | PennLive letters

Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf signs law imposing tougher penalties on those who aid or encourage suicide

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button