The 83rd Legislature prioritized mental health services and increased mental health funding. Although data showing the impact of those funds is still limited due to insufficient time to fully evaluate the various projects, preliminary data shows that access to behavioral health services has increased significantly and that new and innovative opportunities for delivering services are being implemented. In the midst of the possible reorganization of the Health and Human Services Commission, it is critically important that mental health and substance use services remain a priority. Funding provided in the current biennium should be continued and in some areas increased.
Specific programs that should be prioritized include:
- DSHS housing stipends: Housing is a primary component to supporting individuals with serious mental illness to achieve recovery. Without a place to live, it is difficult to manage services, look for work or have hope for the future.
- Youth Empowerment Services (YES) waiver program statewide: The YES waiver program has been successful in preventing child relinquishment and the collapse of families in the counties where it is available. Unfortunately, the waiver program is only available in 10 of the state’s 254 counties. Even though these counties include over 50% of the Texas children, this leaves many parts of Texas without the services children with serious emotional disturbance and their families need. DSHS should be directed to continue the expansion of these services until they are available statewide.
- Diversion services for children at risk of relinquishment: The 83rd Legislature provided funding for 10 children to receive intensive inpatient services to prevent parents from relinquishing custody of their child to obtain critical mental health services. These ten “slots” are all being used and there is a waiting list for these services. The DSHS legislative appropriations request includes an exceptional item to fund 20 additional slots for residential services to better meet the current existing need.
Expanding peer support services: There is much support for expanding the use of certified peer specialists and certified recovery coaches in supporting individuals with behavioral health conditions. Expanding opportunities for certified peer specialists can help address the critical mental health workforce shortage. One recommendation to expand the availability of these services is to make peer support services a Medicaid reimbursable service. An additional Medicaid reimbursable service would create new reimbursement costs, but the reduction in recidivism and the reduction in re-hospitalization should be considered when evaluating this option. (Please see the Hogg Foundation policy recommendation below. The foundation briefing document on peer support services can be found at http://www.hogg.utexas.edu/.)