February 1st, 2014

Mental health funding makes progress

State funding allocated for mental health services is on an upswing, according to a report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Thirty-six states – including every New England state but Maine – will see an increase in mental health funding for Fiscal Year 2014, according to the report. Reasons for the increase vary – from an improving economy, response to the shootings at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn., and other factors.

Mary Kate Mason, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services says, “We’ve always had a very robust system and good resources (in Connecticut) but in the wake of Sandy Hook, I think there were some significant gains in our state.”

Among them, the state will increase the number of assertive community treatment teams from four to nine. The multidisciplinary teams work with individuals who are difficult to engage in services. “It’s an evidence-based program so it’s proven to be successful,” she says.

The state also expanded Melissa’s Project, which helps residents access community resources and will serve 230, up from 105. And, the state funded $1 million for a new Peer Bridge Program, a peer-run agency working with 100 individuals who are involved in the probate court system and in need of mental health services. “The program will partner them up with someone in recovery who can help them make sense of their experiences and help them work toward recovery,” she says.

In addition, the department received funds to implement a Mental Health First Aid program, to teach residents the signs of mental health issues and stress so that those in distress may receive services before they reach a crisis point.

“There’s been a lot of support that we’ve gotten from our last legislative session,” Mason says. “Some of it is linked directly to the issues that Sandy Hook raised.”

In Massachusetts, FY2014 funding for mental health services increased 4.95 percent over FY2013. The increase includes $1.8 million for services that have an impact on public safety, among them: $784,000 for Emergency Services Program supporting mobile crisis teams that travel to locations for individuals in psychiatric crisis and provide specialized mental health services from trained responders; $331,000 for law enforcement collaboration to support mental health and law enforcement partnerships, as well as training opportunities for law enforcement personnel, to enable first responders to recognize, de-escalate and intervene with individuals who are in emotional or psychiatric distress and divert them from arrest/criminal justice system with referrals to clinical services; and $600,000 for the Massachusetts Child Psychiatric Access Program which provides access to psychiatric consultation to pediatricians for medication, treatment and referral for children who exhibit signs of behavioral or mental health concerns during pediatrics visits.

In New Hampshire, FY2014 and FY2015 increases are the result of a 10-year plan that was first established in 2008 as a collaboration between the N.H. Department of Health & Human Services, New Hampshire Hospital Bureau of Behavioral Health and the Community Behavioral Health Association, according to Geoffrey C. Souther, interim administrator of the Bureau of Behavioral Health.

The plan was put in place to improve the state’s mental health system, which had faced eroded funding over the course of many years. But when the plan was established in 2008, “We had the greatest recession since the Great Depression,” Souther says. “So we had a blueprint for what the state needed to do to restore the health system and then there was no funding to do it.”

However, the FY budgets for 2014 and 2015 take a step toward implementing the  10-year plan. “The items in the 2014 and 2015 budget were very much a good faith effort by the governor and legislature to start funding those initiatives,” Souther says. “Some $24.7 million was appropriated over and above the maintenance budget over those two years, to begin implementing (parts of the plan). The governor said this is a priority for the state of New Hampshire and the legislature agreed and made this appropriation. So that is exceptional.”

In Vermont, the additional funding in community mental health programs for FY2014 stems in part from the closure of the state-funded hospital which was flooded and unable to be reoccupied after 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene, says Frank Reed, LICSW, deputy commissioner, Department of Mental Health, Agency of Human Services, Vermont.

Prior to the closure, the state hospital was de-certified for Medicare and Medicaid billing, so all resources flowing to that facility, approximately $23 million, were part of general fund at that time, says Reed. “Upon closure and the emergent relocation of patients and the planning for psychiatric inpatient replacement capacity that was determined by our Governor and Legislature to be de-centralized, general fund resources were able to be redirected into Medicaid eligible services at other certified inpatient facilities in the state and to community mental health programs,” Reed says.

Additionally, Vermont is also a state operating under a Medicaid Global Commitment demonstration waiver for all its Medicaid beneficiaries, offering considerable flexibility in how Medicaid eligible services could be financed. “An investment of an additional $8 million dollars was made into the expansion of emergency and outpatient capacities, crisis bed and residential recovery programs, more collaboration with law enforcement and peer supported programs,” he says.

Federal funding participation for inpatient services and care was also available given the use of Medicare and Medicaid certified facilities that picked up the care for patients until a new state-operated facility can be built. A new hospital is under construction and should be completed in the summer of 2014, Reed says.

By Pamela Berard

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