HHSC report on mental health services waiting lists released

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has released its quarterly report on waiting lists for mental health services, including those in the former NorthSTAR service area. The report provides a snapshot of the number of adults and children on waiting lists to receive community mental health services as well as the average number of days spent waiting.

The creation of the report is required by the General Appropriations Act of the 85th Legislature. The Appropriations Act specifically dedicates over $27 million in general revenue and nearly $4 million in federal funds each fiscal year to eliminate the waiting list for these services, increase capacity to avoid future waitlists, address population growth and its impact on service areas, as well as equitably distribute funding to local mental health authorities.

According to the report, 1,118 adults and 5 children are on waiting lists to receive mental health services. On average, adults and children both spend over 110 days on waiting lists before receiving services or removing themselves from the list. When measuring underserved adults and children, 896 adults and 109 children are on waiting lists.

There are several factors that contribute to long waiting lists. One is simply that as Texas’ population grows, the number of adults and children who qualify for state-supported mental health services also grows. Table 9 of the report shows that by 2050, 811,000 adults will likely qualify for state-supported mental health services compared to the 533,907 who qualified in 2016. The table also says that limited funding and workforce shortages in psychiatrists, clinicians, nurses, and mental health professionals contribute to long waiting lists.

The report also evaluated waiting lists for people on forensic commitments – individuals who have been charged with a crime but were acquitted by reason of insanity, or found incompetent to stand trial. For forensic commitments, 586 people are on waiting lists for an average of 47 days. In addition, there are 362 individuals who require treatment in a maximum security unit on a waiting list who wait an average of 225 days.

Fortunately, the report shows that in this first quarter, 2,432 adults and 90 children were removed from these waiting lists. For forensic hospital beds, waiting list changes evened out with 558 people removed from waiting lists while 556 were added.

So far, the report says no money allocated from the Appropriations Act has been used to remove people from waiting lists. Instead, they say decreases in numbers are due to HHSC encouraging mental health authorities to utilize their available resources. The HHSC says that expenditure data will be included in the second quarterly report.