Seeking support for mental health funding

Cris Collingwood//May 2, 2023

Annie Strite Administrator speaks to residents at a Mental Health Town Hall at Carlisle United Methodist Church on April 19. - PHOTO/Cumberland County

Seeking support for mental health funding

Cris Collingwood//May 2, 2023

Cumberland County is taking a proactive approach to get increased mental health funding from the state in the new budget.

Annie Strite, Cumberland County mental health administrator, said the county, which is the fastest growing in the state, is holding Town Hall meetings to outline the multi-faceted issues facing the community and the need for increased state funding, which she said, has been flat since 2009.

The hope is that residents will contact their representatives to ensure they know the depth of the crisis counties are facing on the mental health front.

“Gov. (Josh) Shapiro has proposed an increase in funding, but I’m concerned it’s not enough,” Strite said. “We have been flat funded for 14 years which has had a negative impact on our ability to meet the needs. We have a wait list for all levels of our services which can result in people going to jail or being in crisis.”

In fact, Cumberland-Perry Mental Health Services is facing a projected $2.5 million deficit by the end of the fiscal year at the same time the population is growing by 10%, she said.

State Sen. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, said the mental health crisis is a serious issue in Pennsylvania and was exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he said since 2016, the state has increased the budget by more than 14% and the state gave Cumberland County $50 million in COVID relief funding it could have used for services.

“They chose how to use that money,” Rothman said. “They put half aside and spent $8 million on a HVAC system in the courthouse.”

Ben Burner, spokesman for Cumberland County said the county was awarded $49,214,152 in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and the entire amount was used for revenue replacement. Of the revenue replacement money,

the county committed $24 million for recovery grant funding and $25 million for county operations.

Burner said the new HVAC system cost the county $700,000, not $8 million as Rothman stated.

In addition, the county has already allocated $3,075,000 between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscal years to cover the mental health budget deficit.

“Our projections show that we will need to subsidize an additional $2.5 million to cover state funding shortfalls for the 2023-24 fiscal year if additional state funding is not received,” he said.

An additional $7,112,908 has been allocated in the form of recovery grants to be used for mental and physical health related projects and services, Burner said.

“The ARPA money was one-time money intended to replace lost revenue related to the pandemic and is not a sustainable funding option for years to come. If we continue to fund the mental health subsidy with one-time money, we will have an even bigger budget deficit to cover when the money runs out,” he said.

“Our challenge is to know how underfunded we are. As the public emergency is ending, the number people needing services will return to prepandemic levels so we will need more services,” Strite said.

One example Strite cited is residential care. The county currently has 84 beds and a wait list of 90.

“We spend $6 million now, so if we double our budget, we may meet that need, but it is hard to know what is enough.”

Like most counties, Cumberland contracts services and oversees the programs. Strite said her team of four meets regularly with providers to make sure people are where they need to be.

“There are so many moving parts to this,” Strite said. “It’s like peeling an onion, the more layers you remove, the more you find.”

The Cumberland-Perry Mental Health Services team oversees all aspects of mental health. Strite cited homelessness, services to elementary and secondary students, the elderly, and people being released from hospitals and prison.

The only homeless shelter is Carlisle Cares, she said, which has locations in Carlisle and Shippensburg. Strite said some people getting released from the hospital or prison have nowhere to go and seek shelter there. Problems arise when the beds are full.

“We are working on this, the county commissioners are working on this,” she said. “All counties are experiencing the same thing.”

Saying this is not a once and done issue, Strite said the community has so many needs. To that end, it employs contact case managers that assist people with daily living chores to make sure they can live on their own.

“We have 11 contact case managers who each have more than 100 clients,” she said. “Last year, we served more than 1,400 people.”

The largest group of people seeking help are those ages 21 to 44, Strite said. The next largest are those ages 45 to 64, but she said she is seeing an increase in those over 65 due to the isolation during the pandemic.

Last year, 167 adolescents and five young children also received services.

“We have seen a significant increase since 2019. The problem is our inability to get people into treatment because of a lack of providers,” she said.

Strite and her team try to get people to see their primary care physicians, but she said, sometimes the primary care physicians are reluctant to manage mental health medications.

Telehealth, too, has helped, but Strite said, sometimes in person visits are necessary to monitor how a person is handling medications and their daily needs.

To manage the caseloads, Cumberland-Perry Mental Health Services has developed services that are more cost effective.

One program she is proud of is the Certified Intervention Team (CIT) program that the county received a grant for. It trains police officers to de-escalate situations and get people to proper care they need.

“It’s been very successful. They learn how to question, persuade and refer people who might be in crisis,” Strite said. “We’ve trained all kinds of people – county employees, police, librarians, school staff.”

Currently, the county has eight trained facilitators who conduct the training. Last year, they trained 212 people.

The county has also developed support groups and often uses “loss survivors” to run them because Strike said they know what someone is going through and can relate to them well.

It has also received Community Mental Health Service Block Grant through the state Department of Human Services to support First Episode Psychosis (FEP), which Strite said is important because people who receive help after a first episode tend to do better than those that go untreated.

“We also work with our local colleges and present programs to create interest in the mental health field,” she said. “We encourage internships in our programs and work with providers to offer them.”