Pennsylvania's 'Broken' Mental Health Care System


Pennsylvania’s jails and prisons were never designed to house people with serious mental illnesses but today they make up an estimated 10 percent of its correctional population.

That was one of the key findings of PennLive’s year-long series, “From Patients to Prisoners,” which explored the myriad difficulties that people with mental illnesses face in getting help in Pennsylvania and how, without that help, they too often end up committing petty offenses that lead them to arrest and incarceration.

In this final piece in its series, PennLive presents 11 potential solutions to that problem, from increasing state hospital beds to changes in how Pennsylvania divvies up mental health care funding.

These solutions were suggested by the scores of academics, mental health advocates, correctional officials, police, homeless shelter workers and mental health workers that PennLive interviewed for its series.

Many of their ideas would require extra state funding, some would require law changes, and some solutions are supported by certain advocates and not others – like increasing the number of beds in Pennsylvania’s state hospitals.

The 11 solutions, listed in an escalating grade from “easy” to “hard,” are:

  • Centralize the state's mental health administration;
  • Suspend, don't terminate, Medicaid benefits;
  • Fund public awareness campaigns;
  • Assess how many psychiatric inpatient beds Pennsylvania needs;
  • Broaden commitment criteria to make it easier to involuntarily commit seriously mentally ill people;
  • Legally mandate certain at-risk mentally ill people to get treatment while living in the community;
  • Restore funding for community mental health services to pre-2012 levels;
  • Increase funding for community mental health services;
  • Increase funding for community mental health services;
  • Provide incentives for counties to establish mental health courts;
  • Expand Pennsylvania's psychiatric inpatient hospital beds;
  • Establish a universal health care system in Pennsylvania.

Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, a 2015-2016 John Jay/Langeloth Health and Justice Reporting Fellow, writes for PennLive and the Harrisburg Patriot-News. The above is an abridged version of the final story in a series, published last week. For a full version and a more detailed explanation of the 11 ideas, and earlier articles in the series, please click HERE.

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