Members of the Texas House of Representatives joined a panel discussion during the 7th annual Texas Tribune Festival Sept. 23 alongside mental health professionals to discuss state spending and reform.
Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman, joined Republican state Rep. Four Price, for the “Next Steps on Mental Health” panel. The lineup included Sharon Butterworth, chairwoman of the El Paso Behavioral Health Consortiumand John Burruss, CEO of Metrocare Services.
The panel’s discussions ranged from telling personal stories to announcing funding projects and state legislative plans.
Price said the past two legislative sessions have been able to increase funding for mental health services across Texas starting in 2015. Price said the funding has provided the state the ability to expand awareness, policy and willingness to discuss behavioral health.
“As more folks tend to become more knowledgeable and comfortable and aware, we will see continued investment, more programs, more ideas and that will translate to better patient outcomes,” Price said. “I’m pretty proud of that.”
Reports show Texas spending nearly $200 million on mental health reform from 2013-15, according to the Texas Tribune. Price said this funding has benefitted 15 state agencies including the foster care system and the education system.
In addition to providing better quality behavioral healthcare, panelists brought up issues such as a lack of medical professionals in parts of Texas, and senate bills including SB 292 and SB 1326, which focus on reforming jail diversion and criminal justice when it comes to mentally ill offenders.
Butterworth said the mental healthcare workforce in Texas needs to increase and spread itself to smaller towns. However, there are obstacles to solving this issue despite funding.
“There are lots of negative vibes throughout,” Butterworth said. “I think education has a lot to do with eliminating that. As we know more about mental health and as we become more comfortable talking about it, I think we’ll be able to see the vibes go away.”
Butterworth works in El Paso, a city she says lacks mental health resources and education for children.
Coleman said Texas intends to improve mental health going forward by using investments to incorporate mental health education with physical education. Coleman said the same amount of attention paid to children’s physical health should be paid to educating them on their mental health.
“We would like to marshal those best practices to educate our teachers and administrators, we can incorporate our mental health curriculum into schools that choose to teach public health,” Coleman said. “We could do good things toward raising awareness.”
Coleman’s other main focus is mental health rehabilitation in opposition to jail time for qualifying offenders.
“SB 292 and SB 1326 are both two bills to pass this session that have to do with jail and criminal justice reform,” Coleman said. “This is important because it will keep a lot of folks out of county jail that don’t need to be there and will also extend jail diversion statewide.”