Dozens of parents, educators and concerned community members pleaded with lawmakers on Wednesday about the critical need to improve mental and public health care across the state.
Krista Cielo joined other guardians in nearly two hours of public commentary to highlight her own experiences caring for a child with mental health needs while dealing with a lack of adequate help.
“We recently spent 18 years trying to navigate children’s mental health services in Las Vegas…It was always a fiasco and a full-time job,” Cielo told an interim committee meeting. of state finances. “Please dedicate as much [funding] as possible to children’s mental health services and autism services, so that the children who arrive today do not have to go through what my son and I have had to go through.
Passionate cries for help preceded the committee’s approval of a massive investment in health resources and services across the state, including $171 million for public health and more than $45 million for a range of mental health services, including funding for mobile crisis response teams, a new children’s behavioral health authority and in-home services for young people with high needs.
Those dollars came from the U.S. bailout, which brought Nevada $2.7 billion in flexible state aid after it was passed in March 2021. Lawmakers on Wednesday approved nearly $250 million in stipends. this multi-billion dollar bucket, leaving about $600 million remaining as unobligated. funds when accounting for approved past expenditures and plans for specific allocations in the future.
Gov. Steve Sisolak described the approved allocations as “meaningful and historic,” and lawmakers hailed the support package for children’s mental health services.
“We, in a session, might do one or two of these things…but never this way,” said Rep. Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D-Reno). “It’s something that’s kind of a gift, because we’ve never been able to approach it like this before.”
Cindy Pitlock, who heads the state’s Division of Child and Family Services, echoed the concerns expressed by parents and guardians. She spoke to lawmakers about the increased mental health issues among children in Nevada amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgent need to establish more services to help these children.
“Since the start of the pandemic, many children have developed symptoms of depression, anxiety, behavioral health issues, and those already suffering have experienced a severe exacerbation of symptoms,” Pitlock said.
The Youth Mental Health Services Allocation Package includes:
- Nearly $1.6 million to support Mobile Crisis Response Teams in Clark and Washoe counties
- $7.3 million to provide comprehensive coordination and intensive care for youth with severe needs, including children at risk of out-of-home psychiatric care
- $2.4 million to provide intensive home services to families
- $2 million to establish a Children’s Behavioral Health Authority, which will support Nevada’s behavioral health staff and provide oversight of children’s mental health services in the state.
Pitlock said the spending would help “build up and further strengthen a currently very inadequate child care system”.
Several parents have also called for additional help for children with autism, and lawmakers have approved $8.5 million to support diagnostic and treatment service providers through the Grant a Gift Autism Foundation Ackerman Center.
In a statement after the stipends were passed, Barbara Buckley, executive director of the Southern Nevada Legal Aid Center, called them “a transformational funding package for children’s mental health services.” Buckley said the Legal Aid Center worked with Clark County, Sisolak and others to develop the package and noted that final recommendations for improving youth mental health care will be submitted to the finance committee in october.
Pitlock described the package as a way to create an “interlocking system of services and supports” that will give families more options for accessing help.
Lawmakers on the committee also expressed the urgency of investing money in these programs and services, noting a historic lack of support for these mental health resources.
“Children’s mental health is in crisis in this state. It’s been a while,” said Congresswoman Maggie Cartlon (D-Las Vegas). “We can’t wait a year to start, we have to start now. We have an opportunity. These people have been coming together for more than a year to develop a plan to move children’s mental health forward. We will not delay, we must act now.
Still, some members of the finance committee raised questions about how the programs would be put together. Congresswoman Robin Titus (R-Wellington) spoke of the high vacancy rates in the Child and Family Services Division – over 20% and up to 50% depending on the section of the division – and spoke is said to be concerned about filling new positions.
Stephanie Woodard, the state mental health authority, said the expansion of positions expands the size of the workforce eligible to provide essential health care services, while easing the burden on clinicians or licensed providers currently employed.
State officials have also signaled a willingness to continue with the new programs and services, though several were initially set up with one-time federal funding. If implemented successfully, they would likely be supported by ongoing funding allocated through the normal state budget process.
Major public health allocations largely cover the construction and renovation of new and existing labs and health centers in northern and southern Nevada.
The bulk of that spending directs $75 million to the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory at NUR and will be used to construct a new 55,000 square foot facility adjacent to the existing facility.
Mark Pandori, who heads the state lab, spoke about the need for an up-to-date lab, noting the ability of such a facility to detect the spread of infectious diseases. He also said Nevada was the only state without a state-level toxicology lab capable of performing opioid and drug testing.
UNR President Brian Sandoval hailed the award as a “historically significant investment in Nevada’s public health future.”
“Nevada’s scientific and public health community will work together in this modern and needed new facility that will provide our state with a trusted public health resource for generations to come,” Sandoval said in a statement.
As part of a $151 million post for public health facilities, lawmakers approved $30 million to build a public health lab in southern Nevada operated by the University Medical Center, $40 million to build an academic health center at the UNLV School of Medicine and $3 million each for the UNR School of Public Health and UNLV School of Public Health.
“[The academic health center] will provide targeted services to meet the needs of residents with a focus on eliminating health disparities and access issues, including critical mental and behavioral health needs,” said Bailey Bortolin , Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor.
The committee also approved an allocation of $20.8 million to the Division of Public and Behavioral Health to provide targeted grants to local public health agencies.
These funds will be used in part to create a new Central Nevada Health District, which will serve residents of Pershing, Eureka, Mineral and Churchill counties. With the creation of this district, lawmakers also approved an exemption so that these counties no longer have to pay assessment fees for public health services provided by the Department of Health and Human Services.