Bell County – Ever since the 82nd Texas Legislature the state of Texas has been able to take advantage of the 1115 Texas Healthcare Transformation Waiver to help fund mental health services in the state. Now that funding could be coming to an end and some mental health services could end with it.
Central County Services uses the money to fund several programs including the Bell County Crisis Intervention Team – five deputies with special training to handle calls with a mentally ill subject.
This comes at the same time that the Texas House Select Committee on Mental Health released a report on the mental health issues that challenge the state. That report references statistics from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that said 24,000 people are homeless in the state. At least 500 of those are in Bell County. The report also said one in six homeless persons have a serious mental illness and said many mental health services have a shortage of psychiatrists, clinical staff, and behavioral health providers.
Advocates of more funding say loosing current services could be a significant step backwards for the state.
“In our case over the last five years we have improved as the legislature has increased funding, because we were very far behind at one time due to cuts. Now we are keeping up with the incoming stream of the mentally ill and we are adding new programs,” David Chastang of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said.
There are, however, some proposed bills that could fill in the gap such as SB 292. That bill would make grants available to counties for the purpose of reducing the number of mentally ill that are incarcerated. Eligible programs under that bill could establish a mental health jail diversion program, provide community treatment and outreach, or provide alternatives to a jail based restoration program.
Proponents of the programs do worry about the lack of available funding for the legislature as the representatives try to hash out a budget for the next few years. House District 55 Representative Hugh Shine is not against additional mental health spending, but wants to make sure existing programs are funded as efficiently as possible before more services are paid for.
“I want to match what we are spending with the revenues that we have,” Shine said. “And if we have more revenue than what we have a need for, then we can look at how to apply additional revenue.”