Opinion/Editorial from Sen. Lincoln Hough: Mental Health Awareness

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Jefferson City — State Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, discusses Mental Health Awareness Month: Making Sustained Investments a Top Priority:

As we close out Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to share with readers how we continue to invest in life-changing and life-saving programs and services for those suffering from severe mental illness or substance-use disorder. During the first week of May, we completed an unprecedented budget for mental health providers across the state. These investments are specifically aimed to connect our state’s resources across the broad spectrum of hospitals, law enforcement and mental health providers, and improve cooperation between these entities to get people into treatment as quickly as possible.

Behavioral health conditions, and the people who suffer from them, have long been underfunded and underserved in this country. Entrance into treatment has routinely been through improper portals consisting mainly of emergency rooms and the penal system, costing taxpayers billions. Only recently has the state begun to focus its attention on frontline interaction and immediate treatment. This attention frees up countless hours for law enforcement officials and emergency room personnel.

These issues in behavioral health will not go away without continued transformative, generational investments into the access of services, a continuum of care, crisis response and placements that will connect individuals in need to immediate treatment. The Missouri Senate, during this past session, has acted on these needs. Understanding the reality that law enforcement and hospitals are not the best or most cost-effective treatment providers for those experiencing a behavioral health crisis has been key. As the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, I will continue to urge the committee to see the value in these investments going forward.

 Key investments in behavioral health care: 

  • An additional $10 million for a statewide network of behavioral health crisis centers (BHCCs) that focus their care on individuals in crisis, with mental health professionals available to triage, assess and provide immediate care to stabilize the crisis and connect the person to the appropriate follow-up treatment. This frees law enforcement to do the important jobs of protecting our communities and frees up emergency rooms while being more cost-effective.
  • $4.3 million for 35 Youth Behavioral Health Liaison (YBHL) positions working with children, often contacted through the child’s school or a school resource officer. These non-uniformed individuals provide screenings and other mental health resources deemed necessary at the time. The goal is to make sure that youth are evaluated, allowing providers to either create a safety plan to keep them safe in their home or, if they need to be hospitalized, keep them safe while a treatment plan is formed. YBHLs are also tasked with establishing or enriching relationships with school personnel, law enforcement, the state’s Children’s Division and juvenile court staff to ensure proper collaboration.
  • $123 million for increased statewide access to community mental health providers. This first-of-its-kind investment will provide necessary capital improvements for providers and will allow them the flexibility to reach further into our rural areas to serve those who may have traveled great distances for treatment in the past, or who may have gone without the necessary preventive care and treatment they needed.
  • $52.7 million for enhancement of telehealth and digital healthcare options. The goal of this one-time funding is to create access to treatment for individuals in underserved areas of the state. Telehealth and other investments in broadband improvements are the future of out-state health care. These dollars will also be used to purchase transcranial magnetic stimulation equipment. This cutting-edge equipment for individuals suffering from PTSD will be spread statewide and provide services for our military, law enforcement and other emergency personnel in need of treatment.

These are just a few of the investments into the behavioral health care system we have made here in Missouri. The need for mental health and substance-use services will not go away anytime soon. My colleagues and I will continue to provide the necessary resources needed to fight this silent epidemic.