If slow and steady wins the race — mental health care reform should win the marathon.
The mental health care system in Texas has been a mess. It’s an antiquated, convoluted system with no real efficiency or consistency.
It’s so bad that House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, commissioned an interim House select committee to extensively study and propose actionable ways to overhaul the system.
The committee met and delivered, creating one of the most comprehensive reports on mental healthcare in Texas ever.
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This report, published in December 2016, illustrates the problem areas and suggestions for solutions, but the committee hits the heart of the problem with three sentences in their 109-page report:
“If we fail to adequately invest and earnestly address the issues now, we so at our own peril because the societal, medical and criminal justice costs alone will be extremely high. In short, the problems will not simply go away on their own. In fact, they will only increase as Texas continues to grow, and so will the costs — loss in human potential; detrimental social impact on families, communities and businesses; and financially.”
The House took these sentences seriously, setting aside significant funds for the reform, and an impressive handful of bills made it to law.
Some of those went into effect earlier this month, like youth medicaid mental health screenings requirement, — which is fantastic — and now state-run mental health inpatient facilities are getting overhauls.
Lack of beds and proper resources in these hospitals have been one of the biggest burdens of getting adequate mental healthcare. Without an appropriate number of beds the wait times become unreasonable. This creates a cycle of inpatient care for only worse-case scenarios and quick discharges.
Would you wait two months to treat a broken leg to only be discharged after getting a splint? No, but that scenario was a reality for most mental health care patients.
These overwhelmed state hospitals are finally, finally, getting the beds they desperately need. Earlier this month, the 10 state mental health hospitals transferred to the Health and Human Services Commission from the Department of State Health Services.
Since the transition, the HHSC signed off on adding about 558 beds to the falling number of beds — the first significant increase in recent history.
Still, there are only about 2,900 beds for all of Texas, half reserved for the criminal justice system, and according to a new HHSC report, about 220 of those beds were unavailable because of repairs and staff shortages.
HHSC also bought the vacant former Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center in Waco to convert into another state mental health hospital.
In these two significant moves, it looks like Texas is continuing its thoughtful approach to mental health care reform.
It’s heartening to see a smart, steady plan instead of throwing money at the problem and hoping for the best.
It looks like Texas knows how to win the race, and this reform will help better every Texans lives in the process.