Citing a substantial increase in the need for mental health services that was exacerbated by the pandemic, the Chester County Commissioners this week approved a resolution calling for an increase in state funding for community-based mental health programs.
“We are seeing people, from children to seniors, struggling with mental illness,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. “We know from the data collected by our key partners like ambulance services, emergency rooms, hospitals, and our colleagues in law enforcement that the need has increased substantially in recent years. We must do more to help, and that requires investment.”
Chester County and other Pennsylvania counties provide essential community-based mental health services such as crisis intervention, community residential programs, outpatient and intensive clinical care, and family-based support services, all of which are critical to the well-being of residents and communities.
“Counties, including ours, are seeing demands for mental health services in communities that far exceed state funding levels,” said Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell. “Without adequate and sustainable funding, we are concerned that we could experience an increase in homelessness and unwarranted jail time for people with mental health conditions, and none of us wants to see that. Chester County has preventive and proactive systems in place, but we need to have the necessary resources in order to fully respond in a crisis.”
According to the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), which describes the current state mental health system as ‘crumbling,’ in 2012, the Commonwealth cut $84 million that counties used to fund programs for people with intellectual disabilities, mental health challenges, and other needs, forcing programs to close and leaving the human services system in a vulnerable state. CCAP says that since then, state funding has lagged far behind needs and caseloads, negatively affecting services while also putting additional tension on communities and local budgets.
Other findings cited by CCPA include:
- The Center for Rural Progress published a report on Suicide Trends and Prevention in Rural Pennsylvania Counties and Schools showing a steep rise in suicides in Pennsylvania over the past two decades and that the increase was greater in rural communities.
- A survey by the American Psychological Association in 2021 showed that 84% of psychologists who treat anxiety disorders said that they have seen an increase in demand for anxiety treatment since the start of the pandemic, compared to 74% in 2020.
- Key findings from a survey of behavioral health Chief Executive Officers by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing showed that 52% of behavioral health organizations are currently seeing an increase in the demand for services while capacity is diminishing.
County mental health funding primarily goes to partner organizations in the community that provide the services. Many of those agencies are grappling with salaries that are not competitive enough to attract people coming out of college to consider a career in the mental health field or to retain professionals who have worked in the field for years but who are more frequently looking elsewhere to earn better compensation.
To add to the funding need, Chester County is in the process of creating a 9-8-8 comprehensive mental health crisis and suicide prevention system, to align with federal legislation. County planners are considering a three-pronged structure. This would include a call center where trained, qualified staff would take the calls and interact with the caller to provide immediate assistance; a crisis response team to be dispatched to help in-person; and a stabilization center, where individuals who are in mental health crisis could go to for stabilization and evaluative services.
“Awareness is another aspect of what we are trying to accomplish through this resolution,” said Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline. “People often don’t know where to turn until they or a family member or friend needs that service, so by passing this resolution we alert our legislators to the urgent need for additional funding for mental health crisis services, but we also let people know that there are resources and programs available now. We need to build upon existing services to ensure our coverage is as comprehensive as it needs to be.”
The County currently offers a mental health crisis hotline run by Valley Creek Crisis Center at 866-846-2722. With the 9-8-8 implementation, there is a need to expand services.
Commissioners Moskowitz, Maxwell and Kichline are joining colleagues throughout Pennsylvania in submitting the resolution with a letter reinforcing the call for funding to the state legislators who represent Chester County, as well as the governor’s office and the PA Department of Human Services.