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The Texas Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would create a $15 million “innovation grants” program designed to expand access to mental health services for children and families across the state. .
Senate Bill 26, introduced by State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, will provide grants to health care providers and nonprofit groups that offer mental health treatment, especially those who work with children and their family members. The program would be overseen by Texas Health and Human Services.
“The state doesn’t always have to do this. There are great non-profits doing great work. We have local mental health providers doing a terrific job,” Kolkhorst said.
Kolkhorst’s bill was approved unanimously by a vote of 30 to 0 and will now be presented to the House. State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, proposed an amendment that would have required grantees to post materials about gun safety and suicide prevention on their website and at their facilities, but it doesn’t. was not adopted.
As written, the bill would require Texas Health and Human Services to prioritize entities that work with children and family members of children deemed to be at high risk for mental health issues. The bill also directs the state to consider new funding options for nursing homes that could provide long-term hospital care to people with behavioral treatment needs but who no longer require care. be in the state psychiatric hospital system.
The bill would also require the state to audit local mental health authorities once every 10 years and publish mental health care data online. It will also create an exit and transition program to help people hospitalized in public hospitals gradually integrate into the community.
“Senate Bill 26 provides clear direction for several programs funded in the budget to ensure that those funds are spent on patient treatment and beds, not just bureaucracy,” Kolkhorst said. “The bill creates transparency and accountability for our many community health systems to ensure that services really reach those who need them.”
In 2022, Texas ranked last in access to children’s mental health services and 33rd in adult care, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Today, 98% of Texas’ 254 counties have been fully or partially designated by the federal government as “mental health professional shortage areas.”
Greg Hansch, executive director of the nonprofit Texas National Alliance on Mental Illness, said his organization supports SB 26 because it improves communication between state psychiatric hospitals and local mental health authorities.
“We have long argued that the state should collect data on the extent to which individuals are in a lower level of care than they are clinically recommended for,” he said. “It’s important to get the right services at the right time. SB 26 will shed light on this key issue, as well as several others.
At a press conference earlier Thursday, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick pointed to both SB 26 and Kolkhorst’s other bill, Senate Bill 25, as evidence of the Senate’s mission. to alleviate the state’s strained mental health system. They are part of what Patrick said is an investment of more than $3 billion proposed in the 2023 Supplementary Budget and the next two-year budget to increase access to mental health services in Texas.
Most of this funding would go to building new public psychiatric facilities and renovating older ones.
SB 25 would increase funding for nursing students and training programs. It would provide loan repayment assistance to part-time nursing teachers. The bill is currently before the House Higher Education Committee.
“Today we’re here to talk about the biggest expansion of mental health care in the state and, I would say, in the country,” Patrick said.
The state also plans to set aside $100 million of the proposed budget of more than $2.3 billion to help the state’s 37 mental health authorities, which provide local treatment, creating more short-term inpatient treatment. term for patients who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.
“This is a unique opportunity to be able to help and lead our community at a time when we really need it – and after the pandemic, we need it more than ever,” Kolkhorst said.
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