SAN ANTONIO – After another mass shooting in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said more needed to be done regarding mental health.
Mass shootings from Sutherland Springs to Santa Fe, El Paso, Uvalde and now Allen are becoming more common in the state.
Abbott and state leaders say the root of the problem may be related to mental illness and treatment.
“It’s a pity that this has to happen when a tragedy happens. It’s a pity that this is related to this, but I think this has been refocused. While it’s unfortunate, I will say that our Texas Legislature, House of Representatives, and Senate do have a strong focus on mental health and substance use,” said Allison Greer Francis, vice president of public affairs at the Bexar County Health Services Center. . .
Despite several calls for more mental health support over the years, in April 2022, Abbott cut more than $200 million from the department that oversees mental health programs in the state. A month later, the shooting at Robb’s elementary school prompted state legislators to take mental health funding more seriously. .
“They pay attention to what is happening at the community level and make investments. Are we behind? Yes. Can we use more funds? Yes. But the House of Representatives and the Senate have their own budget,” Frances Greer said. “Funding for behavioral health over the next biennium, i.e. 2024 or 2025, is just over $9 billion, which is 11% more than in this biennium, i.e. FY 2022-2023.”
Greer Frances added that the proposed budget for mental health programs and treatment this year is larger than in the past three legislative sessions combined. However, access to mental health services remains a critical issue and there is a significant gap for people in need of treatment.
“Workforce problems hinder access. Funding hinders access. There are very long waiting lists for those who are trying to get into an inpatient facility, like on the civilian side,” Frances Greer said.
Last year, the nonprofit organization Mental Health America ranked Texas number one. 33rd in the nation in adult mental health and last in the nation in child mental health.
“NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, tells us that one in four or five struggle with mental illness. In a county the size of Bexar County, two million, that’s 400,000 people,” Frances Greer said. “We signed a contract with the state to serve 38,000 people. And while we are not the only mental health and addiction service providers in the city, there is a significant gap between the number of people who need help and the number of people who actually get it.”
Greer Francis is hopeful that the next round of mental health funding will pass and help reach those who need it most. There is also a need for long-term residence.
“If they need anything longer than 30 days, then there is a significant amount of funding not only to build additional public hospitals, but also to expand the capacity of a number of facilities, including one in San Antonio,” Greer Francis said. “San Antonio State Hospital has received approximately $250 million in investment that will be completed in early 2024. It doesn’t increase capacity, but it does greatly improve the existing facility.”
“Virtually every adult we see in our adult clinics needed this help as a child, so the sooner we can identify and treat these childhood disorders, the better it will be for us as a community,” Frances Greer said.
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