Gov. Roy Cooper’s new behavioral health plan released on March 8 aims to invest $1 billion to address North Carolina’s mental health and substance use crisis, according to a press release.
The plan focuses on increasing the availability of behavioral health services, implementing systems to support people in crisis and using technology to enable better health access and outcomes.
“It is an attempt to deal with issues broadly, deeply and comprehensively,” Mark Botts, a professor at the UNC School of Government, said. “And that’s what’s different than what I’ve seen in the past.”
Cooper has identified several issues that he wants the N.C. General Assembly and the state more generally to confront, Botts said. He said the governor and the General Assembly need to work together to implement this initiative, as it requires legislative action.
“I believe that people in the General Assembly, as well as in the governor’s office, ultimately care about the citizens of North Carolina,” he said.
Kelly Crosbie leads the Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services Division of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. She said her division was involved in the development of this plan.
“For the past two years, as a whole department, we were working on very specific behavioral health and resilience initiatives,” Crosbie said. “So the governor's roadmap came out of that.”
The $1 billion necessary for the implementation of Cooper's plan would come from a one-time $1.8 billion bonus the federal government is offering to any states who agree to Medicaid expansion.
“The passion and the design for this has been around for some time,” Crosbie said. “This, ‘Oh my goodness, we’re about to get expansion and we’ll have this reinvestment $1.8 billion,’ that’s probably been the last six months where it’s felt very real.”
The plan would require continued reinvestment to maintain the proposed services, Crosbie said.
She also said children would benefit from Cooper's plan through foster and kinship care, as well as behavioral health support.
Botts said children living in emergency departments and the offices of the NCDHHS Division of Social Services is a big problem in North Carolina. He said he likes that Cooper has highlighted it as a significant issue where the state needs to direct attention and resources.
“I don't think that's a problem that will be overcome or resolved from well-meaning previous initiatives that have attempted to deal with that,” Botts said. “I think you need a more systemic and more broad and deep attack on that issue for us to really make some headway on it.”
Caitlin Fenhagen, the director of the Orange County Criminal Justice Resource Department, said one of the most impressive aspects of the plan is that it specifically addresses the intersection between behavioral health and the justice system.
Fenhagen said her department's mission is to support people impacted by the justice system.
Both crisis diversion facilities and mobile crisis units are projects mentioned in the report that the CJRD has already been working on, according to Fenhagen.
Though Orange County has already invested some in behavioral health, Fenhagen said the plan would transform and sustain the work that the county does.
“We need to make this investment because we want to keep our state and our local communities healthier,” she said.
Cooper’s plan is worth investing in, Crosbie said, because people need behavioral health services.
“If we get people into behavioral health services when they need it, it helps people have better lives, it helps their families, it helps them move into recovery, it helps overburdened communities,” she said. “So investing in behavioral health is just really good for the state as whole.”
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