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How Pennsylvania Can Respond to the Mental Health Crisis

June 05, 2023

The commonwealth needs policies and investments that support Pennsylvanians’ timely access to appropriate behavioral health care in the setting that best fits their needs, HAP told state lawmakers today.

During a joint hearing today, the House Human Services and Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committees examined the need to modernize, support, and strengthen counties’ ability to respond to emergencies and the mental health crisis through the 911 system and the new 988 mental health lifeline. HAP provided written testimony detailing hospitals’ role in crisis response and steps the commonwealth can take to strengthen its behavioral health infrastructure.

“HAP member hospitals know intimately that Pennsylvanians are not receiving the right mental health care, at the right time, or in the right setting—many aspects of our behavioral health system are in crisis,” Jennifer Jordan, HAP’s vice president, regulatory, behavioral health, and equity strategy, wrote, adding that HAP supports “crisis-intervention services and increased workforce capacity to ensure that Pennsylvanians can get the care they need, when and where they need it.”

Here are four things to know:

  • Behavioral health care in crisis:  Hospital emergency departments are often the main point of entry to care for people experiencing a behavioral health crisis. Patients are staying longer after receiving emergency care due to long delays finding placements in appropriate inpatient and outpatient psychiatric care settings.
  • 988 implementation:  HAP noted that effective 988 implementation will help to assess and direct patients to right setting for care, and alleviate overcrowded emergency departments. 
  • Workforce needs:  Pennsylvania faces a severe behavioral health workforce crisis, which limits capacity to support Pennsylvanians’ mental health.
  • Legislation:  HAP voiced support for proposals aimed at addressing the behavioral health crisis, including:
    • Allocating $100 million in federal funds to support adult behavioral health that was set aside in the 2022–2023 state budget.
    • Providing assistance for hospitals to transfer patients with complex behavioral health needs to appropriate care settings.
    • Supporting models that integrate timely psychiatric care into primary care settings.

HAP’s testimony and a recording of the hearing are available online.

Note: The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, help is available online or by texting or calling 988.