(WHTM) — County leaders across the Midstate have said over and over that they desperately need money for mental health services. Two bills in the state legislature aim to fill that funding gap, but is that enough?
The short answer is no. Counties are short millions of dollars. Still, Dauphin County’s Mental Health Administrator said at this point, every little bit helps.
“As a social worker of 46 years, I really think we’re at an impasse in human services at this moment,” administrator Andrea Kepler said.
Over a decades-long career, Kepler said she has only seen the need grow. In the last 10 years, she said the need for services in children and teens has more than doubled. It is up 70 percent for seniors, but funding has not kept up.
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“They’ve been ignored essentially from a funding standpoint for over a decade and that needs to stop,” Kepler said.
Kepler said Dauphin County is facing a $1.5 million deficit, money they need.
“Just to continue to function to do what they’ve been providing,” she said.
Two bills in the state legislature are trying to help. One would set up long-term funding for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which recently made it through the House Human Services Committee.
The other would distribute $100 million of federal money to mental health providers.
“The need is so overwhelming, we hear about rates of mental illness that are skyrocketing across the board,” Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh County) said.
Schlossberg wrote that second bill, which recently passed the House. He said the biggest chunk of that money should go to staffing.
“We know that there are massive challenges within the mental health universe from a workforce perspective,” he said.
The problem with this is it is only a one time payment.
“But at this point in time, we are so much in need of funding support, every little bit makes a difference,” Kepler said.
Still, Kepler said it is not nearly enough. She says lawmakers need to think long-term, and Schlossberg agrees.
“We need to do a lot more, I mean, frankly this was a down payment, a drop in the bucket,” he said.
The problem is now so dire, Kepler said without more funding, her department faces difficult choices.
“Dauphin County really is thinking this is going to be the year where we’re going to have to reduce services,” she said.
This problem is not unique to Dauphin County. Cumberland and Perry County mental health services are expecting a $2.5 million deficit in funding this year, and Cumberland County commissioners plan to sign a resolution calling for more money.