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Report: PA Excels in 988 Response, Falls Short for Workforce, Capacity, Funding

Report: PA Excels in 988 Response, Falls Short for Workforce, Capacity, Funding

by Danielle Smith, Keystone State News Connection

mental health report in Pennsylvania showed a strong response rate of 89% for 988 crisis line calls.

However, it showed there is room for improvement in staffing, handling call volume, and funding.

Rep. Michael Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, the House majority caucus chair and co-chair of the Mental Health Caucus, said he is passionate about 988’s work because he lives with and manages a mental illness. He emphasized the need for more staff and funding to handle the call volume. He sees 988 as a success in providing help but acknowledged workforce shortages as a significant hurdle.

“Arguably, our system has been underfunded for decades,” Schlossberg asserted. “The good news about 988 is that it results in an increased amount of calls and texts; the bad news about 988 is that it resulted in an increased amount of calls and texts because we don’t yet have the resources to be able to manage those calls and give people who do need that call elevated the level of care that they need.”

Schlossberg pointed out Pennsylvania has made progress in mental health but emphasized the need for more. He noted the report calls for consistent funding, leading to efforts for a guaranteed revenue stream for the 988 crisis line. Despite current support from the governor, concerns linger about long-term funding stability under potentially less supportive future leadership.

The report suggests a 98-cent surcharge on calls could generate almost $12 million annually in the state’s funding.

Angela Kimball, chief advocacy officer for Inseparable, said the first step for all states to achieve the goals is financing. She recommended legislators ensure there are other funding sources available.

“For mental health, substance use, and suicidal crises, we want there to be a response regardless,” Kimball stressed. “That means that a system has to be built to not just be dependent on Medicaid. And that means that legislatures actually need to take the step to ensure that there are other funding sources.”

In 2017, mental health and substance use disorder emergency department visits in the U.S. cost more than $5.6 billion. Kimball added people end up in packed hospital emergency departments, where they could wait for days to be placed in appropriate care.