Mental health needs on rise in county

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) named “appropriate funding to support the crumbling mental health system” as the group’s top priority this year – lending its support to Gov. Wolf’s budget proposal that would increase county mental health base funds by $36.6 million.

In Susquehanna County, local health care facilities have reportedly seen an increase in the number of patients coming in for behavioral health issues – including those in crisis. “The ages are greatly varied and cover pediatric to geriatric,” said Endless Mountains Health Systems CEO Loren Stone.

Stone said the uptick could possibly be linked to the pandemic, but he is unable to make a direct causal relationship between COVID and the increased number of patients with behavioral health issues. “Access to others in society, socialization, etc. has been reduced during COVID and this may have been an indirect impact of the pandemic on the population’s behavioral health status,” he said. “As a nation, there has been a significant shortage of behavioral health capacity.”

Barnes-Kasson County Hospital Executive Vice President Dave Passetti agrees, “Resources are limited for mental health, locally, countywide, statewide, and nationwide.  And yes, there definitely is a need for more providers.  Unfortunately, it seems as though those particular human resources are not abundant.”

Neither EMHS, nor Barnes-Kasson, provides behavioral health services.

Stone said, “EMHS has a very good partnership with the Scranton Counseling Center (SCC) for crisis intervention,” and the Montrose-based hospital has partnered with the agency for several years.

County health care facilities are not the only places seeing an increase in need. School districts have also reported an increase in the number of student referrals for mental health or counseling services.

In the Susquehanna Community School District, Superintendent Bronson Stone said the district has a mental health screener that is used in addition to the Student Assistance Program (SAP) that has always been in place. SAP is a team process in schools used to mobilize resources and designed to assist in identifying issues including alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, and mental health issues which pose a barrier to a student’s success, according to the PA Dept. of Education website.

But a lack of providers is an issue, Superintendent Stone said. “Providers are in scarce supply. However, the district did form a partnership this year that resulted in an additional counselor in the district one day per week.  The district has received approval on a grant that will provide an extra counselor each day next school year to support students in both schools.”

“If the funding continues to be uneven with the growing demand, counties will continue to struggle in meeting the needs of their residents,” said CCAP President and Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller. “It is paramount that counties receive the adequate funding to continue arranging the highest quality and broadest range of services.”

Counties bear the primary responsibility to plan, provide, and contract for essential community-based mental health services, such as crisis intervention, support for individuals leaving state facilities, treatment, community consultation and education, day services and prevention.

The $36.6 million increase is in addition to the one-time increase in county mental health funds – paid through federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPS) through the governor’s Brighter PA plan. This funding would restore two-thirds of the cuts to county-based mental health funding made during the Corbett administration.

This is the first article of an ongoing series that will be taking a look at behavioral health needs and resources in Susquehanna County.

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