Even Bigger Budget News, a Local Jail Update, and More Bills

In this post, learn about preliminary Senate Finance Article II Workgroup decisions on mental health and substance abuse funding, news about privatization plans for the Harris County Jail, and more behavioral health legislation.

Andreas Loves the Article II Workgroup

Budget proceedings as they relate to mental health and substance abuse just keep getting better and better, at least in the Senate. Last week the Article II Workgroup met to determine preliminary funding levels for health and human services. There are three different decisions the workgroup can make:

PRIORITY 1–items that the workgroup gives its highest priority and recommendation for funding
PRIORITY 2–important items the workgroup would like to fund, if funding is available
PENDED–items on which the workgroup took no action (this does not mean action will not be taken at a later date)

The workgroup’s decisions related to the current Department of State Health Services mental health and substance abuse Exceptional Items are as follows (and thanks to a Senate staffer and Lee Johnson with the Texas Council for filling in details!):

DSHS Exceptional Item # 6–$80 million to eliminate statewide waiting lists
a. Children with Special Health Care Needs (802 additional clients served per year) $23,600,000 PRIORITY 2
b. MH Adults (6,242 additional clients served per year) $54,100,000 PRIORITY 1
c. MH Children (286 additional clients served per year) $3,100,000 PRIORITY 1

DSHS Exceptional Item #7–$33,550,084 to improve substance abuse services
a. Capacity Expansion (948 additional clients served per year) $4,941,828 PENDED
b. Substance Abuse Provider Rate (12% increase) $18,471,549 PRIORITY 1
c. Set aside slots for people referred by DFPS (6,000 over the biennium) $10,136,707 PRIORITY 1

DSHS Exceptional Item #8–$28,037,202 for supportive housing services for people with mental illness and substance use disorders
a. Oxford House (supportive housing for people in substance abuse recovery) $ 1,140,000 PRIORITY 1
b. Relinquishment Slots for DFPS (10 beds per year) $ 2,056,262 PRIORITY 1
c. Rental Assistance (people with mental illness who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness and new Medicaid 1915i state plan option)–$24,840,940 PRIORITY 1

In addition, the $115.5 million plan that DSHS unveiled last week also was made a Priority 1 item. So all in all, the Article II Workgroup prioritized almost $30 million for substance abuse related services, and about $200 million for mental health services!

The total Article II Workgroup Priority 1 ask was $2.5 billion, the lion’s share of which was related to Medicaid. Senate Committee Finance Chairman Tommy Williams asked the workgroup to pare down its ask to $1.7 billion, but specifically asked Workgroup Chairwoman Jane Nelson to do everything possible to protect the $200 million identified for mental health! I am hoping the Workgroup also will preserve the current substance abuse Priority 1 items, as well as add the $5 million substance abuse capacity expansion item to that list. 

The full Finance Committee is expected to meet this Friday to consider the Workgroup’s final health and human services recommendations, so stay tuned for more on this!

County Poised to Say “No” to Privatization

This morning, Harris County Commissioners Court will meet to approve a number of different projects recommended by the Purchasing Office. Privatization of the Harris County Jail will not be among them.

In April 2011, Commissioners Court voted to accept bids to privatize the jail. This caused concern among a number of advocates, including this blogger, particularly due to the potential disruption of health and mental health services to inmates. On any given day, the Harris County Jail houses almost as many people with mental illness as the entire state hospital system, so privatizing these services would have affected more people with mental illness than the recently scrapped proposal to privatize a state hospital.

According to the Houston Chronicle, out of the four bids that were submitted, the bid from the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was the only proposal that was seriously considered. While CCA estimated cost savings of between $8 and $11 million, there was uncertainty about whether the savings actually would be realized.  Additional concerns included the impact of privatization on security, re-entry programs and inmate treatment.

So, we can put the nail in the coffin on this one for now. Kudos to the County for making what appears to be the right decision, particularly for the 2,100 or so inmates with mental illness who are housed in the jail each day!

Behavioral Health Legislation

OK, so back to the Legislature.  As of yesterday, over 2,700 bills have been filed by House and Senate members. The filing deadline is next Friday, March 8th, and if previous sessions are any guide, we’ll probably see another two or three thousand bills filed between now and then! I’ll save my “sigh” for when I’m sifting through a thousand bills next weekend. Anyhoo, mental health and substance abuse bills of interest include:

HB 1541 by Turner, which requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, along with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department and Department of Public Safety, to conduct a comparative study on the supervision, incarceration and treatment practices of TDCJ and TJJD on recidivism and rehabilitation rates of young offenders;

HB 1698 by Farrar, which adds school social workers to the Education Code and details their responsibilities, including assessment and counseling of students and their families, providing crisis prevention and intervention services, and coordinating community resources to meet the needs of students and their families; and

HB 1745 by Naishtat, which requires hospitals and emergency rooms to report to the Department of State Health Services regarding suicide attempts

For a more in-depth look at mental health and substance abuse legislation and to see MHA Houston’s position on these bills, click here.

Hasta next week!

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