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Pennsylvania Needs To Accept Federal Money For Behavioral Health Clinics, Organizations Say

Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
Vicki Baumann, practice administrator for Pittsburgh Mercy’s peer services program, explains the importance of funding Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.";

Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics offer crisis care, substance and mental health treatment, and other crucial support in Pennsylvania and other states.

Future funding for these organizations is in doubt. 

Congress hasn’t passed a budget, so its been supporting the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics program, and other federally-funded initiatives, through short-term spending bills.

But Gov. Tom Wolf's administration hasn’t accepted what amounts to millions in federal dollars since July, when Congress passed the first of several continuing resolutions to keep the government open. Officials with the state human services department say they haven't accepted the money because the short-term bills are unreliable.

Behavioral health organizations from around the state are imploring Pennsylvania to change course, and allow them to access federal funding before it's too late. 

Pittsburgh Mercy, a faith-based community health and wellness, is one of six Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics in Pennsylvania. While president and CEO Tony Beltran agrees the short-term spending bills not an ideal way to fund behavioral health, he argues that turning money away, and thereby reducing services, is not the answer.

“This is not about funding, this is about lives,” said Beltran, "lives that will be cut short because of this lack  of funding, lives that deserve this best quality of care and evidence-based practices.”

There are 67 Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics in eight states: Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

These organizations are mandated to take holistic approach to care. Services must incluce 24-hour crisis care, screening and assessments, substance and mental health treatment, social safety net support, and services geared towards active and veteran military service members.

“We had over 10,000 persons served as part of this program," Beltran said. "And what we found is that 80 percent of those had not received behavioral health care in the six months prior. Our wait time went from 10 days, from one-and-a-half days to enter into care.”

Ali Fogarty, communications director for the state Department of Human Services, said the department has directed providers to ramp down programming and instead focus on core services because, “Acting based on assumptions of short-term funding could put Pennsylvania, our providers, and the patients we serve in difficult situations.”

Fogarty said that the department will take what it learned from the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics program to continue these services by creating a new, sustainable model that’s not dependent on federal reauthorization, and “scalable to more providers around Pennsylvania."

The other Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics in Pennsylvania are Berks Counseling Center in Berks County, CenClear Child Services in Clearfield and Jefferson counties, NorthEast Treatment Centers in Philadelphia County, Resources for Human Development in Montgomery County, and the Guidance Center in McKean County.

This story was updated on December 12, 2019 at 10:16 a.m. to include more information about the state's plans for future behavioral health programs.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.