Texas mayors ask state legislators for more money for mental health – Houston Public Media

Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced sweeping new police reforms during a press conference at City Hall on April 29, 2021.

Texas mayors, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee on Friday, asking that more than $155 million in surplus funds be sent to 39 local mental and behavioral health authorities over the course of of the next two fiscal years. They are public mental health care systems that provide emergency, outpatient, and rehabilitation services to low-income and uninsured patients across Texas.

The Committee is holding a public hearing today to discuss the health section of the supply bill that was tabled last month.

“This session, right now, is the time for transformational investing,” Turner said in a statement. “This base budget is a good start, but we need more resources for our community services. Let’s continue to work together to invest appropriately in mental health care.”

These community mental health centers, like much of the health sector, have faced staffing shortages exacerbated by the pandemic.

72% face high staff turnover, according to the Texas Council of Community Centers. These shortages ultimately trickle down to patients seeking care – with nearly half of these centers reporting that they have either reduced capacity, halted services or planned to do so due to staffing issues.

“As elected local government leaders, we know firsthand how (lack of access to services) makes our local police departments the primary provider of safety net mental health services for too many Texans,” indicates the letter. “People living with mental health issues need access to mental health services, and our police need to be able to focus better on public safety.”

The money these mayors are asking for would largely go to pay raises that other state health workers have already been promised. In January, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced wage increases for nearly 20,000 employees who work at state psychiatric hospitals and living centers for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Wayne Young, CEO of the Harris Center, where the vacancy rate is around 8-10%, sees higher compensation as a key recruiting and retention strategy.

“A lot of times that hurdle is the compensation,” Young said. “The work we do is not always easy. We serve a clientele with very important needs. They have very complex cases. When you are not paying competitive salaries, it becomes difficult to recruit people.”

The most difficult positions to fill are those for licensed professional counselors and social workers with master’s degrees – with some remaining open for 6 months. There is new competition from telehealth companies offering remote work and other healthcare organizations offering other incentives.

Young said positions that require less education have also been difficult to fill and would benefit from salary increases.

“When I walk into Bucee and see the hourly rates they’re paying, I’m like ‘oh my God, this is who I’m competing with? “, Young said. “I feel like we have very rewarding jobs and people do them because they care about the people we serve, but it’s a harsh reality when you see what people get paid to work in retail stores and convenience stores.”

The letter also applauded SB 1 for increasing spending on some mental health-related programs, such as the 988 crisis hotline and loan repayments for future mental health professionals.

The missing piece is the ability to staff to meet needs now, Young added.

“Even if you give me all the resources in the world, if I can’t find the manpower to run and deliver the programs and services, I can’t impact my community the way we are. billed,” Young said. said.

Texas mayors ask state legislators for more money for mental health – Houston Public Media

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