SAN ANTONIO – After another mass shooting in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said more needs to be done about mental health.
Abbott and state leaders say the root of the problem can be linked to mental health illnesses and treatment.
“It’s a shame that it has to occur when there’s a tragedy. It is a shame it’s tied to that, but I think there is a renewed focus on that. While that is unfortunate, I will say that our Texas Legislature, the House and the Senate, are really paying careful attention to mental health and substance use,” said Allison Greer Francis, VP of Governmental Relations of the Center for Healthcare Services in Bexar County.
Despite several calls for more mental health support over the years, Abbott cut more than $200 million from the department that oversees mental health programs in the state in April 2022. A month later, the Robb Elementary shooting prompted state lawmakers to take mental funding more seriously.
“They are paying attention to what is happening at the community level, and they are making investments. Are we behind? Yes. Could we use more funding? Yes. But the House and Senate, they each have their own budget,” said Greer Francis. “Behavioral health care funding over the next biennium, which is 2024 or 2025, totals just over $9 billion, and that’s an increase of 11% from this from this biennium, which is fiscal year 2022-23.”
Greer Francis added that this year’s proposed mental health programs and treatment budget is more than the last three legislative sessions combined. However, access to mental health services remains a crucial issue, and there is a significant gap for people who need treatment.
“Workforce challenges hinder access. Funding hinders access. There are very lengthy waiting lists for those who are trying to get into an inpatient facility, both on the civil side,” said Greer Francis.
Last year, the nonprofit organization Mental Health America ranked Texas no. 33 in the country for adult mental care and last in the country for children’s mental health.
“NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, tells us that 1 in 4 or 5 struggle with a mental illness. In a county of Bexar County’s size, two million, that’s 400,000 people,” said Greer Francis. “We are contracted by the state to serve 38,000. And while we are not the only mental health and substance use provider in town, there’s a significant gap between the number of people who need help and the number of people who actually get it.”
Greer Francis hopes this next round of mental health funding will pass and get help for those who need it most. There is also a need for long-term stays.
“If they need something longer than 30 days, then there is a significant amount of funding, not just to build additional state hospital facilities but also to expand capacity in a number of facilities, including one in San Antonio,” said Greer Francis. “The San Antonio State Hospital got about a $250 million investment that will be complete in early 2024. It doesn’t expand capacity, but it really does make great improvements to that existing facility.”
“Just about every adult that we see in our adult clinics needed that help as a child, so the earlier we can identify and treat those childhood disorders, the better off we are as a community,” said Greer Francis.