Harrisburg, PA – Yesterday, Governor Josh Shapiro signed an Executive Order directing Commonwealth agencies to collaborate with mental health and substance use disorder stakeholders to streamline and improve the accessibility of mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) services across the Commonwealth. The Council is the first-of-its-kind for the Commonwealth and will develop and recommend to the Governor a statewide action plan to address any gaps in access, affordability, or delivery of services, with the goal of removing silos across state agencies, healthcare providers, payers, state and local government sectors, and decreasing the wait time for services for Pennsylvanians in need.
With the mental health and substance use crises impacting every community in the Commonwealth, the Council’s work will center on new and innovative care delivery models, workforce challenges, related social needs and inequities, and collaboration between the criminal justice system, public safety networks, and public health organizations to treat the whole person.
“Across Pennsylvania, I’ve heard from students, parents, providers, and so many others who have told me about the growing challenges of dealing with mental health challenges and substance use disorder, which are so often intertwined,” said Governor Josh Shapiro. “It’s time we deliver the help so many Pennsylvanians are asking for. This Behavioral Health Council will be led by a seasoned expert, Dr. Christina Finello, who will spearhead the development of an action plan that will transform the health care delivery system to meet the real needs of Pennsylvanians. For the first time, our Commonwealth will have a senior leader in the Governor’s Office whose full-time job is to focus on this specific work and reach across all levels of government to improve our mental health and recovery services.”
The Council will further address how to best integrate mental health and substance use disorder services with a patient’s primary care provider by working hand-in-hand with state and local agencies, commissions, or organizations already engaged in the delivery of these services.
Charged with setting the agenda for behavioral health under the Shapiro Administration, the Council will be comprised of 33 members, and include a diverse array of stakeholders with representation from state, county, and local governments, the provider community, advocacy groups, and individuals with lived experiences — all will seek to create a more holistic healthcare delivery system in Pennsylvania. Members include:
- the Secretaries of Aging, Agriculture, Corrections, Drugs and Alcohol Programs, Education, Health, Human Services, Labor & Industry, Policy and Planning, and State;
- the Commissioners of the Insurance Department and State Police;
- the Adjutant General of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs;
- the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency;
- the Pennsylvania Attorney General;
- two members of the public with lived experiences;
- two representatives from County Mental Health offices, one from a rural county and one from an urban county;
- two representatives from County Drug and Alcohol services, one from a rural county and one from an urban county;
- two representatives from an Area Agency on Aging, one from a rural county and one from an urban county;
- a substance use disorder treatment specialist or an addiction specialist who is actively practicing;
- two members from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives;
- two members from the Pennsylvania Senate.
“The creation of this Council is so important, as it is critical for providers, counties, and the people who use mental health and substance use services,” said Dr. Christina Finello. “Co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders increase risks, including higher morbidity and mortality, greater treatment costs, homelessness, incarceration, and suicides. People need access to the right kind of treatment at the right time to meet their needs. The Pennsylvania Behavioral Health Council will aim to ultimately create a more user-friendly and holistic approach for individuals with mental health and substance use disorder healthcare needs in the Commonwealth.”
The Executive Order also creates an Advisory Committee that will share industry knowledge, expertise, reports, findings, and feedback from the communities they serve with the Council to assist members in their work to improve the delivery of services.
“Mental health is integral to every part of our lives – if we are not able to promptly and equitably receive care for behavioral health needs like seeing a therapist, getting help with a substance use issue, or getting the medication we need, we can’t bring our best selves to work, school, and or to our loved ones who rely on us,” said DHS Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh. “The Governor’s Behavioral Health Council creates the opportunity for transformational improvement by bringing stakeholders together to ensure we are responding to this system’s needs and helping Pennsylvanians get the care and support they deserve.”
“In our most recent assessment of Pennsylvanians’ health, people across the Commonwealth told the Department of Health the number one concern facing their communities is behavioral health problems,” said Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen. “With nearly one in seven Pennsylvanians reporting experiences with poor mental health, this executive order will provide the infrastructure needed to ensure we all work together to address the behavioral health needs of all Pennsylvanians.”
“This is a critical time to address the need for enhanced and coordinated behavioral health services in Pennsylvanians,” said DDAP Secretary Dr. Latika Davis-Jones. “Under Governor Shapiro’s leadership and as a member of the Council, I look forward to continuing our work engaging with substance use disorder treatment and service providers, meeting with individuals with lived experience and gathering feedback on how we can ensure our regulations result in improved health outcomes, while focusing on the importance of coordination of efforts across Commonwealth departments.”
“The mental and behavioral health needs of older Pennsylvanians cannot be met by the Department of Aging alone,” said Secretary of Aging Jason Kavulich. “We approach with gratitude the opportunity the Governor’s Executive Order has provided to the Department of Aging and our sister agencies to bring increased focus to older adults in need of these supports and services, so that they may live independently – with dignity – in their chosen communities.”
“The Pennsylvania Insurance Department is excited to work with the Council to make affordable, equitable access to mental health services a true reality,” said Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Humphreys. “Governor Shapiro has been clear that there should be ‘no wrong door’ for Pennsylvanians seeking assistance and a better tomorrow, and I’m confident that this Council will help move the Commonwealth forward.”
The Council builds on the Governor’s commitment to improving mental health services following major wins in the 2023-2024 budget that increased investments to restore full funding to county mental health programs and created a line item to invest $100 million to fund mental health resources in our schools.
Governor Shapiro was inspired to establish the Council following his participation in the National Governor’s Association Initiative on Strengthening Youth Mental Health this past May, at a roundtable discussion on Black mental health, with additional recommendations from the Behavioral Health Commission (convened under the Wolf Administration), along with other stakeholder groups at the local, state, and federal level.
Read Executive Order 2023-20, Pennsylvania Behavioral Health Council, here.
MEDIA CONTACT: Governor’s Press Office, firstname.lastname@example.org?
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