GOP leaders discuss funding for mental health

By: - October 24, 2022 6:30 am

Gov. Eric Holcomb answers questions from the media about mental health. (Whitney Downard/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Republican leaders seemed optimistic they could secure funding for mental health during the 2023 budget-writing session, despite the numerous priorities warring for monies from the state’s healthy surplus.

“I don’t think (Hoosiers) should be worried and I’m not being cavalier about this,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said Friday about mental health funding. “Will we be able to do everything we want to do? We’re never able to do everything we wanted to do but this is a priority.”

Holcomb appeared alongside legislative and judicial leaders Friday at the first Indiana Mental Health Summit designed to bring stakeholders together and discuss solutions to Indiana’s deficit of mental and behavioral health services. Nearly 1,000 stakeholders attended the event.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, left, and House Speaker Todd Huston (Photo by Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle)

The event, hosted by the Indiana Supreme Court, examines how courts, jails and community leaders can work together to reduce the number of Hoosiers with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system by providing earlier interventions and treatment.

Even though an estimated one in five Hoosiers lives with a mental illness, roughly 20% receive no treatment.

“Most people, when they think about mental health, think about treatment centers first… but we know that our jails and criminal justice systems are the largest providers,” House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said. “That has to change.”

Huston said Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, would carry a bill in the upcoming year to address funding for mental health. 

Shoring up Indiana’s 988 system

A lynchpin to reforming Indiana’s mental health system is the 988 hotline, designed to be a mental health crisis equivalent to 911 that launched this summer.

A report from the Indiana Behavioral Health Commission concluded last month that the system needed dedicated, long-term funding and recommended instituting a $1 per month surcharge on phone bills, similar to the 911 surcharge Hoosiers already pay.

The system relies on three pillars of support: having someone to answer the 988 hotline, someone to respond to the crisis in the field, and a place to go if someone is in a severe crisis and requires immediate assistance.

On Monday, Sen. Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, will meet with other Morgan County leaders to discuss establishing a mobile crisis response unit, which would respond to those calls for help. 

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Bray said lawmakers aren’t mandating other counties follow suit, but hope others will voluntarily create their own teams once they see it in action.

“We need to show that it’s working and tell that story and communicate that to other folks,” Bray said. “That’s really helpful. I’m not sure it’s anything we want mandated at this point.”

But Bray said the General Assembly needed to acknowledge the end goal: building out 988 to be a fully responsive system like its 911 counterpart.

“We’re going to have somebody come out if it’s necessary, come out and assist you just like 911 does if you have a stroke. I don’t know if we’ll get there by April, but it has to be the goal,” Bray said. “It’s going to need some funding, there’s no doubt about that – whether it’s going to be a dollar or something else. That’s all part of the budget process that we’ll work through.”

Holcomb said that investment in mental health was needed and that the absence of a system cost Hoosiers in the long run. The Behavioral Health Commission estimated that untreated mental illnesses in Indiana cost the state $4.2 billion annually.

“(It’s) so critical that people have access to the service that they need when they need them,” Holcomb said. “Oftentimes, that’s a miracle.”


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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.