While the legislature continues to debate hundreds of policy bills, budget writers are also focusing on crafting a supplemental budget for 2016-2017. The legislature enacted a biennial budget for 2015-2017, but this supplemental budget is meant to address emerging needs, such as last summer’s wildfires and the rising costs of prescription drugs.
Recognizing that this is a short session and a supplemental budget, mental health remains our top priority. Other key issues we are advocating for include enhanced payment to hospitals with high volumes of Department of Corrections inmates, and protecting rural nursing homes from the negative effects of changes to the nursing home rate formula.
Priority: Expand access to mental health providers through student loan repayment
Washington State does not have enough mental health providers to address the growing need in our state for mental health care. In addition, the providers we do have are not evenly distributed across the state. We need to create incentives for people to become mental health providers, and to work in underserved areas. WSHA is working with a coalition to advocate for $3 million in increased loan repayment funding targeted to selected mental health professionals serving safety net populations.
Many mental health professionals are not eligible for loan repayment dollars in the state’s 2015-2016 distribution of repayment funds for health professionals. Key providers — such as psychologists, master’s-level social workers and mental health counselors, as well as marriage and family therapists — are not eligible. We are asking for an increase in funds targeted at the broad array of mental health providers.
Priority: Provide increased capital funds for mental health facilities
There are many communities and organizations that are interested in providing inpatient or crisis mental health services but do not have enough money for capital costs. The capital, construction, and safety requirements for mental health facilities are substantial.
Last year, the legislature allocated $32 million in capital funds for mental health projects, including $5.5 million in a competitive pool. The request for dollars for the competitive pool totaled more than $17 million. Several promising projects were not funded. This year, WSHA is advocating for at least $6 million more for capital funds for mental health competitive grants.
Capital funds would be targeted to facilities that will serve involuntarily and publicly-funded detained patients, serve underserved geographic areas, and treat patients with significant medical issues.
Action needed: Please contact your Senators and ask them to make funding for mental health a priority in their 2016 supplemental budget. Click here to be directed to the contact information for your hospital/health system’s Senators. Senators on the Senate Ways and Means Committee are particularly important to the decisions about the budget.