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The Texas Senate passed a bill Thursday that would create a $15 million “innovative grant” program aimed at expanding access to mental health services for children and families across the state.
Senate Bill 26, introduced by State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), would provide grants to health care providers and nonprofit organizations that provide mental health treatment, especially those that work with children and their families. The program will be overseen by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.
“Countries don’t always have to do that. There are great nonprofits out there doing great work. We have local mental health providers doing great work,” Kolkhorst said.
Kolkhorst’s bill passed unanimously 30-0 and will now go to the House of Representatives. Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, pushed for an amendment that would require grantees to post gun safety and suicide prevention materials on their websites and facilities, but failed to pass.
As written, the bill would have the Texas Department of Health and Human Services prioritize funding for entities working with children and children’s family members deemed at high risk for mental health problems. The bill also directs the state to consider new funding options for nursing homes that can provide long-term residential care for people with behavioral treatment needs who are no longer in the state’s psychiatric hospital system.
The bill would also require the state to audit local mental health authorities every 10 years and publish online data related to mental health care. It will also develop discharge and transition plans to help people in state hospitals gradually move into the community.
“Senate Bill 26 provides clear direction for several programs funded in the budget to ensure that those funds go toward patient care and beds, not just bureaucracy,” Kolkhorst said. “This bill creates transparency and accountability for many of our community health systems to ensure services actually reach the people who need them.”
In 2022, Texas will rank dead last in access to children’s mental health services and 33rd in adult care, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America.
Today, 98 percent of Texas’ 254 counties are designated in whole or in part 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 believed that the state should collect data on the extent to which individuals receive below levels of care that are clinically recommended,” he said. “Access to the right services at the right time is important. SB 26 will shed light on this critical issue as well as A few other questions.”
At a news conference earlier Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick singled out SB 26 and Kolkhorst’s other bill, Senate Bill 25, as evidence of the Senate’s mission to ease the state’s strained mental health system. They are part of more than $3 billion in investments proposed in what Patrick said was the 2023 Supplemental Budget and the upcoming two-year budget to increase access to mental health services in Texas.
Most of the money will be used to build new state mental institutions and renovate old ones.
SB 25 would increase funding for nursing students and training programs. It will provide loan repayment assistance to part-time nursing faculty. The bill is now before the House Higher Education Committee.
“Today, we’re here to discuss the largest expansion of mental health care in the state and in the entire country,” Patrick said.
The state also plans to allocate $100 million from a proposed budget of more than $2.3 billion to help the state’s 37 mental health units that provide local treatment provide more short-term residential care for patients who may be going through a mental health crisis.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help and guide our community in a time when we really need it — and we need it more than ever in the wake of the pandemic,” Kolkhorst said.
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