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Mental Health Bills Need Your Support

Laura Nicholes
TAC Legislative Staff

Two bills authored by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio), a long-time advocate for mental health legislation and funding, need your support. The bills, HB 205 and HB 2401, would direct the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to create a statewide plan for the proper and separate allocation and funding of state hospital beds and local outpatient treatment alternatives to inpatient hospital admissions. On April 19, HB 205 was unanimously voted out of the House Public Health Committee, chaired by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). HB 2401 has been left pending in the committee.

HB 205 directs the agency to create and implement the plan with the establishment of an advisory panel. Counties have a strong representation on this panel and would be able to actively engage the agency to ensure that the future needs and resources of local regions across the state are represented in the plan. 

HB 2401 outlines several options for outpatient treatment alternatives, which DSHS would be required to ensure are available in each service region. County representatives have provided input throughout the legislative process regarding the gaps in services, access to resources and difficulties with state hospitals repeatedly being on diversion and requiring transportation of people in mental crisis to facilities far from their home community. This is especially troublesome when law enforcement is the transporting agency and the person in crisis has no criminal charges and just needs help. Local alternatives such as crisis stabilization facilities, respite centers with extended observation and medical personnel to address the acute mental health needs would greatly enhance the efficiency of the entire mental health system. Many regions have such programs waiting to be approved and funded with Medicaid 1115 waiver money; to the extent that the waiver does not fund these regional projects, the state would be required to fund them. 

The fiscal notes on the bills are difficult to determine because until the needs of local regions are expressly detailed in the plan, the resources required to implement the plan are unknown. The legislature, thus far, has agreed to put approximately $200 million more into mental health funding for the next biennium. The allocation of the new money, in conjunction with the progress made in mental health services over the last several legislative sessions, holds promise for the state  and for counties, but especially for those who need the help.

Rep. McClendon is accepting co-sponsors; invite your legislators to sign on to the bill. The expanded access of mental health services and efficiencies, along with strong local representation on the planning and advisory panel, will be a statewide benefit. Also, please contact your legislators and ask them to support the passage of HB 205 and HB 2401.