Governor Wolf Launches Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters

On January 2nd, Governor Wolf announced “Reach Out PA”: a multi-agency effort and anti-stigma campaign focused on expanding resources and the state’s overall support of mental health care and services.  Governor Wolf stated, “for those struggling with their mental health we have one message: your mental health matters and it’s okay to reach out for help.”  Reach Out PA will include many initiatives, some of which were already announced. 

The PA Insurance Department will pursue Mental Health Parity regulations to ensure Pennsylvanians’ health insurance coverage provides access to affordable mental health care.  There are already federal Mental Health Parity regulations, but it appears the Insurance Department also wants to pursue state regulations, which only apply to access to Substance Abuse Disorder treatment. The Department will also release educational materials to help individuals better understand their mental health benefits and how to access services.  

The Department of Human Services will develop methods to incentivize Medicaid physical health and behavioral health managed care plans to improve integration of physical health and behavioral health services. 

The Department of Health will assess the adequacy of the networks of behavioral health providers in Medicaid and with commercial health insurance plans.  When Pennsylvanians seek mental health services, it is essential that they access timely and affordable treatment.  

The Departments of Labor & Industry and State will study solutions to address the inadequacy of the mental health workforce in PA.  This is an issue across the state and especially problematic in rural areas.  The two departments will evaluate mental health providers by level of care, competitiveness of salaries and benefits, and barriers of entry into the workforce. 

The Department of Education will develop ways to increase the number of highly qualified school social workers, including a new certification.  For social workers, training in a holistic approach to health and wellness and ability to navigate complex social service systems will provide a critical skill set for aiding students and their families.  The Department of Education will also work with the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency to evaluate how every school district can provide a full-time counselor, social worker, and nurse.  They will also collaborate to increase counseling and mental health services at colleges and universities. 

The Governor’s recently established Office of Advocacy and Reform will coordinate and expand on efforts to address Adverse Childhood Experiences that involve trauma and increase access to trauma-informed care across state agencies. 

The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will evaluate the adequacy of resources for military members, veterans, and their families, especially those struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and those at high risk of harm to self or others. 

The Department of Aging will expand efforts to create a “dementia-friendly” Pennsylvania by working with national and statewide organizations to support training, build awareness, and promote action with community stakeholders. 

The stigma of mental health conditions remains a barrier to people accessing the treatment and support they need.  Governor Wolf’s administration has worked to destigmatize substance abuse disorders, in response to Pennsylvania’s opioid abuse epidemic.  He plans to use similar strategies employed by the PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to lead a like effort around mental health and mental illness.  Roundtable discussions will be held across the state.  (At least one of which already occurred in the Lehigh Valley.) 

Governor Wolf also just introduced an online form for Pennsylvanians to provide feedback on mental health barriers, services, and how the state can better support people’s mental health needs.