The Utah Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously voted in favor of House Bill 248 on Wednesday.
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The measure would provide grants to counties through one-time funding of $5 million from the state’s Medicaid Community Supports Waiver for establishing Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams, designed to provide long-term home and community-based services and support for people with severe mental illness.
One day earlier, the bill failed to pass the committee due to concerns over funding and the teams’ ability to adequately address the housing and shelter needs of these individuals.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Marsha Judkins (R – Provo) returned before the committee Wednesday with a third substitute for HB 248 that addressed those concerns.
“In this third sub[stitute], I have added language that strengthens the housing component of this [bill],” Judkins said. “In the study that this bill creates, it will identify gaps in housing needs, and it will determine how to ensure that individuals served by these teams can secure and maintain housing.”
Judkins said the bill would require entities applying for grants to secure and maintain housing while working with local homeless councils. The ACT program’s approach integrates medication management, rehabilitation, and social services, with ongoing treatment individualized to the patient’s needs. Studies have shown the program’s effectiveness in reducing psychiatric hospitalization and sustaining tenure in normalized housing for people with severe mental illness.
Wasatch Behavioral Health (WBH), Utah’s first established community mental health center, completed more than 1,000 mobile-crisis outreach team responses in its service areas of Utah, Summit, and Wasatch counties in 2022. Through HB 248, WBH hopes to expand its ACT program more broadly as part of its comprehensive services.
WBH Executive Director Juergen Korbanka, PhD, said ACT is a significant component of the service continuum where individuals once they have left the care of an inpatient setting can sustain their well-being in the community.
“We in Utah County prioritize housing for our ACT team clients as does Salt Lake County,” Korbanka said before the committee. “Housing is an important issue. At the same time, the ACT team is one of the best, if not the best, means of bringing and keeping individuals who are homeless until they can be stabilized engaged in treatment because the ACT team brings the services to the client.
We have a psychiatrist that does home visits whether that’s in the community or in homes. We have daily med drops, including weekends for individuals that need them. So it’s a fantastic way of really keeping individuals that may be homeless and are quite vulnerable in the community, out of a more restrictive environment or worse.”
The bill’s funding would go to pay upfront costs in bringing the teams online and once established, the program would be self-sustaining through a state-federal match Medicaid waiver for mental health treatment and social services. Korbanka told committee members that most teams are self-sustaining after one year with a client base of 70 or more individuals.