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Transformative Investment in Mental Health Still Possible

Written by Bruce Cruser

Bruce Cruser has been Executive Director of Mental Health Virginia since 2016, bringing a background in social work and community corrections, and many years of leadership experience in local and state government.

February 23, 2023

As the Virginia legislature finishes its work, many bills to improve access to mental health care appear headed for passage. However, any major improvement in mental health care will require substantial funding.

Virginia ranks near the bottom compared to other states in access to a professional behavioral health care provider. The system has been underfunded for so long that it needs massive investments. Polling shows Virginians Support Major Investments in Behavioral Health

The Governor’s budget is a great start, and the House and Senate budgets all include additional funding for needed services, including more crisis receiving centers and crisis stabilization units, and doubling the amount specifically for children’s crisis services.

However, the current session may be extended because House and Senate budgets are $1 billion apart due to different positions on tax cuts and revenue projections.  The Senate version does much more than the House version to bolster mental health services.

We urge support for the following items in the Senate’s proposed budget (There are many more items needing support, but these Senate amendments are at the top of our list because they will get more people the care they need, when they need it):

·         Increased Medicaid payment rates for a number of community mental health services.  This is essential for providers to serve individuals who have Medicaid insurance – Item 304#4s

·         Compensation increases for Virginia’s “safety net” public mental health agencies (Community Services Boards) to help address severe staff vacancy rates – Item 313#5s

·         More Local Crisis Receiving Centers and Crisis Stabilization Units that provide crisis care close to home and without a need for hospitalization – Item 312#1s

 ·         Increase Permanent Supportive Housing that frees up more expensive hospital beds by expanding housing with services for patients who are cleared for discharge, but remain in the hospital because they have nowhere to go – Item 313#1s

 ·         Expand the successful Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP), giving more medical providers who aren’t mental health specialists access to mental health consultation – 312#2s

 ·         “Cover All Kids” – Include income eligible children in Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) regardless of immigration status (approximately 13,000 uninsured children). – Item 305 #1s

 The final budget compromise will be negotiated by the budget conference committee. To voice your support for any of the amendments, you should contact the committee members ASAP through the links below. It helps to let your own delegate and senator know as well (and if they happen to be on the conference committee, all the better):

The House conferees:

Barry Knight       DelBKnight@house.virginia.gov

Luke Torian        DelLTorian@house.virginia.gov

Mark Sickles       DelMSickles@house.virginia.gov

Terry Austin        DelTAustin@house.virginia.gov

Robert Bloxom   DelRBloxom@house.virginia.gov

Emily Brewer      DelEBrewer@house.virginia.gov

The Senate conferees:

Janet Howell      district32@senate.virginia.gov

George Barker   district39@senate.virginia.gov

Richard Saslaw  district35@senate.virginia.gov

Mamie Locke     district02@senate.virginia.gov

Louise Lucas     district18@senate.virginia.gov

Emmett Hanger  district24@senate.virginia.gov

Steve Newman   district23@senate.virginia.gov

Tommy Norment district03@senate.virginia.gov

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