Public Comment / HB 516: Mental Health Treatment Study

Updated: 1 year ago
Public Policy

February 24, 2023
Nate Crippes / Public Affairs Supervising Attorney
Andrew Riggle / Public Policy Advocate
(801) 363-1347 / (800) 662-9080

The study is intended to identify needs and gaps in the community mental health system. The RFP will require a contractor to evaluate a range of funding, service array, and delivery options, along with best practices and models from other states, to address them. The goal is to give you a roadmap to use in setting priorities, determining strategies, and measuring progress in getting the system from where it is now to where we want it to be in three, five, or 10 years.

With its emphasis on Utahns experiencing serious mental illness, we believe the study complements the broader focus of the Utah Hospital Association’s behavioral health master plan, as HB 177’s exploration of the current and future role of the Utah State Hospital. Together, they’ll help you ensure the state has the system-of-care we want for our loved ones, rather than having decisions forced upon us.

Utah’s community treatment and overall penetration rates are 7% below the national average, and Kem Gardner’s “Utah’s Mental Health System” report outlines a number of serious deficits within the continuum of care. Given this, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise the Office of Substance Use and Mental Health estimates only about 7% of Utahns in need of treatment for a serious mental illness received it in FY 22. Fortunately, a little less than 3/4 of them were stable or improving, while 13% had deteriorated. Unfortunately, this is one of the few publicly reported pieces of outcome, not process, data of which we know.

This morning, I heard Speaker Wilson presenting a bill, and he said “Good data drives good decisions.” So we need better data.

Some of this may be a result of Utah’s confusing organization and convoluted funding of local mental health authorities. Still, in a recent block grant proposal, it’s shocking to read that there’s no system to transition individuals from the Utah State Hospital. This, despite Superintendent Earnshaw highlighting the importance of appropriate and sufficient community-based supports to USH’s success in comments before Social Services Appropriations last session.

While the DLC appreciates efforts the legislature’s making on behalf of Utahns with mental health and substance use needs, through expansion of mobile crisis outreach teams and receiving centers, we’re worried about moves making it easier to involuntarily commit or hospitalize individuals in the last couple years. We’re also concerned that the only non-front end response was last year’s $55 million for deeply affordable supported housing.

We hope the State will look for ways to serve individuals in integrated settings, so that individuals with mental health needs have the chance to live, work, and play in their community, while preventing or delaying the need for higher levels of care, institutionalization, or incarceration.

As the Rep. said, we’re hopeful that this study, in conjunction with the Utah Hospital Association’s master plan, can help identify the needs and gaps for those with serious mental illness, and give you and your colleagues a roadmap for getting our community mental health system from where it is now to where we want it to be in five or 10 years. Thanks to your colleagues, we have a similar study on the long-term services and supports system for those with developmental disabilities, and we think it’s important to do the same for this side of the system.