McNeill: Let’s make mental health the priority it should be

Legislation introduced to address shortage of services, retain professionals

HARRISBURG, June 23 -- As budget talks continue in Harrisburg, state Reps. Mike Schlossberg and Jeanne McNeill, both D-Lehigh, are hopeful that this week’s negotiations and debate will also involve thoughtful consideration of H.B. 1690, legislation that would address the shortage of mental health services in underserved areas.

The bipartisan bill, also authored by state Reps. Rosemary M. Brown, R-Monroe/Pike, and Jason Ortitay, R-Washington/Allegheny, would establish and administer a program providing funds for postdoctoral psychology internship placements in federally designated underserved areas -- both urban and rural -- throughout Pennsylvania.

“As we’re here discussing priorities for the next fiscal year, we can’t ethically do so without acknowledging the moral responsibility we have with regard to matters of public health,” McNeill said. “And that includes addressing the serious problem we have with how we provide for Pennsylvanians living with mental health issues. Even prior to the COVID pandemic, more than half of Pennsylvanians living with mental illness reported having not received any treatment. That’s simply unacceptable. It’s alarmingly apparent that the commonwealth has a serious problem with regard to how we handle this issue.”

McNeill said the legislation would not only expand access to mental health services and support to underserved communities, but also provide an opportunity to better train and retain psychologists in Pennsylvania.

“The fact that 27 members are co-sponsors of this legislation is telling. Mental illness isn’t a partisan issue,” Schlossberg said. “It doesn’t care how you vote. It doesn’t matter your age, race or gender. Nor does mental illness care where you live, work or learn. The truth is mental illness can impact anyone at any time. And now, as we look at the impacts of isolation and other factors related to the COVID pandemic, there’s a marked increase in the number of Pennsylvanians facing mental health issues who are unable to access mental health services.”

“As with all of the seriousness we’ve given to discussion to about other budgetary matters these past weeks, I call upon my colleagues to join in supporting this long overdue solution so that we can improve the quality and consistency of patient care for those who need it the most, especially those who live in our most underserved areas,” McNeill said.