Local mental health services are maintained despite stagnant funding

Lycoming/Clinton’s Mental Health Services is able to maintain current levels of service despite the zero-percent increase of allocations from the Department of Public Welfare for 2013-14, said Deborah Duffy, county Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities administrator at Wednesday’s Lycoming/Clinton Joinder Board meeting.

However, that zero-percent increase also means there won’t be an expansion of services or creation of new services to meet emerging needs, Duffy added.

“These are baseline services,” she said.

There is a significant need for psychiatric resources in the community, not only because of funding issues, but difficulty in recruiting psychiatrists, she said.

The agency faces a chronic lack of state funding as there hasn’t been an increase in mental health funding in over a decade. Some years, those services are even hit with a reduction, and it’s difficult to maintain services as costs increase, she said.

“It appears that increased funding for mental health services is not a priority as Pennsylvania develops its annual budget,” Duffy said.

As part of the joinder’s state fiscal year 2012-13 final budget report, all expenses were met with the revenue received, she said. The budgets of fiscal year 2012-13 and 2013-14 are essentially the same, she said.

Costs in the Early Intervention budget are down because of staff retirements.

The joinder budgeted for a new mental health caseworker position who will interact with criminal justice teams in Lycoming and Clinton counties, Duffy said.

Some hurdles loom in the coming months for Lycoming County Children and Youth, as a federal review of the state’s adoption and foster care analysis and reporting system is coming next June, said Mark Egly, county Children and Youth Services administrator.

The purpose is to ensure all agencies are collecting, classifying and reporting cases correctly to the Department of Health and Human Services, Egly said. All 67 counties in the state must do this.

Currently, Lycoming County’s Children and Youth case management system they developed is used by Clinton, Montour and Sullivan counties. This is where all the data goes which has to meet federal requirements, Egly said.

“Our system works very well in Lycoming County and the other counties,” joinder Solicitor Charles F. Greevy III said.

Proposed state legislation may add an extra layer to the process. Because of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case, several proposed bills deal with child abuse definitions and reporting requirements, and if passed, would result in an expanded population under those definitions, Egly said. This means additional data would need to be collected, but he won’t know which data until its passage.

However, the federal review timeline doesn’t align with the legislations’ passage as initial documents are due by Nov. 11. If the legislation is passed, it may cause the agency to revise data already submitted by that point.

While Egly said he is supportive of some of the proposed bills, if passed, it would require additional resources because Human Services already received budgetary cuts.

“They want us to do more with less,” Egly said. Some of the legislators “don’t understand the bills’ effects,” he said. “It may fix one problem, and create three others.” He said he and others are working to educate the legislators on these implications.