New report calls for ‘comprehensive’ fight against Pa.’s other public health crisis: Suicide | Wednesday Morning Coffee

January 15, 2020 7:23 am

State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh (L) and Gov. Tom Wolf, (R) discuss the findings of a statewide suicide task force (Screen Capture)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Wolf administration task force is calling for a “comprehensive approach to mental health treatment,” to prevent death by suicide and to reduce the stigma of mental illness, as it works to combat a public health threat that claims the lives of hundreds of Pennsylvanians every year.

Those findings were rolled out Tuesday during a noontime event in the Capitol that included Gov. Tom Wolf, administration officials, and lawmakers active on the issue.

Citing Centers for Disease Control data from 2018, the administration said suicide is the 10th leading cause of death nationwide, and only one of three that are on the rise. In Pennsylvania, suicide rates have increased by 34 percent since 1999, the administration said.

(Suicide rates, by county, 2013-2017. Source: Pennsylvania Dept. of Health)

The administration’s Suicide Task Force held listening sessions across the state last fall, where it heard from families of victims and survivors, as well as others close to the issue. The task force’s new report, culled from those sessions, will be “used to develop a comprehensive, long-term strategy of significantly reducing the number of suicides in Pennsylvania,” the administration said in a statement.

That strategy will be implemented over the next four years. Among its key conclusions and goals:

  • The “stigma associated with mental health, suicide and suicide attempts can affect the likelihood of individuals seeking help or continuing treatment, and how policymakers make decisions that affect mental health systems.”
  • Finding the “resources needed to elevate mental health as a public health issue, incentivize the integration of physical and behavioral health, and improve suicide prevention resources at the local level.”
  • Lifting “barriers to treatment such as cost and insurance gaps.”
  • Providing “access to more detailed suicide and suicide-attempt data to help policymakers make effective, meaningful decisions.”
  • Addressing “issues within the mental-health workforce, such as pay and barriers to entry, to improve quality of care.”
  • “With proper resources, Pennsylvania’s schools and educators are uniquely positioned to save lives with suicide prevention strategies and resources.
  • “The Legislature could take direct action to prevent suicides through the passage of a Red Flag law (to provide a means to remove firearms from someone at risk for suicide) or safe storage requirements for firearms.”
(Wolf administration graphic)

State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, the Lehigh County Democrat who is co-chair of the Pennsylvania House Mental Health Caucus, joined Wolf and some fellow lawmakers on Tuesday to talk about the report and his own personal journey.

Taking to TwitterSchlossberg wrote that “18 years ago, I almost made a decision to end my life,” and that Tuesday’s event gave him the chance to “tell [Gov. Tom Wolf] and others that specific story, and note that you can find your way home.”

Looking ahead to the 2020 budget season, Schlossberg said a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote to Wolf last fall and urged him to restore mental health funding cuts made under former GOP Gov. Tom Corbett in 2012-13.

The letter asks Wolf to restore the 10 percent cut under Corbett and to include a 5 percent increase in funding in the administration’s fiscal 2020-21 and 2021-22 spending plans.

The letter also “notes strong support for the increases from county commissioners across the commonwealth and the dire concerns of mental health service providers who are struggling to deliver care to some of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable populations.”

During a separate event Tuesday, a statewide group representing county commissioners made their own funding pitch for increased state support for mental health services in the budget year that starts July 1.

In a statement released Tuesday, Wolf said he’s “committed to developing a comprehensive suicide prevention plan that will save precious lives, support people in crisis, and help loved ones of attempt survivors and those we’ve lost.”

The Pennsylvania Senate is back to full strength with the election of Republican Dave Arnold on Tuesday night. Elizabeth Hardison has what you need to know about the special election in Lebanon County’s 48th Senate District.

State House Democrats accused House Speaker Mike Turzai of twice failing to record votes against bills he supports this week, Stephen Caruso reports.

As they made their annual pitch for funding, Pennsylvania’s county commissioners put state support for mental health services front and center on Tuesday.

Associate Editor Cassie Miller gets you smart, fast on how the 2020 Census will affect the federal dollars that are driven out to Pennsylvania for everything from school funding to highway projects.

A state House panel advanced a package of bills aimed at addressing human trafficking. The bills jack up criminal penalties at a time when civil libertarians are sounding alarm bells over resurgent get-tough effortsCaruso also reports.

Pennsylvania is making progress fighting opioid abuse, but the state still needs Washington’s help, a senior Wolf administration official told a Congressional panel Tuesday. Capital-Star D.C. Correspondent Allison Winter has the story.

On our Commentary Page this morning, we’re proud to launch what we’re sure will be the first of many columns and stories from our new partners at The Pittsburgh Current. Columnist Jess Semler sits down to chat with newly elected Allegheny County Council member Bethany Hallam.

Elsewhere, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, argues that Pennsylvania can’t “back the clock on affordable health care.” And a Philly-based advocate for people living with intellectual disabilities says Pennsylvania needs to ‘jump-start’ its investments in child care and early childhood education this budget season.

Philadelphia residents think city government services leave a bit to be desired, the Inquirer reports.
A new lawsuit alleges that Penn State football coach James Franklin looked the other way at ‘graphic’ hazing, the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive looks at efforts to reform Pennsylvania’s probation system.
Allentown’s Catholic Diocese has revealed it paid $9 million in compensation to abuse victims, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

Despite an FBI probe, a top SEPTA official has been promotedWHYY-FM reports.
The state House is moving ahead on an effort to keep people who are convicted of gun crimes in jail longer, the PA Post reports. 
And then there were six: Sen. Daylin Leach has another primary challenger, PoliticsPA reports. explains why it’s so hard to reduce emissions from cars and trucks.
Journalists’ access to the U.S. Capitol will be limited by security concerns over impeachment, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House convenes at 11 a.m.
11 a.m, Media Center: The Dept. of Banking & Securities launches its “Investing in Women Initiative,” to address the gender gap in investment participation.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s brand, brand, brand new music from the equally brand new PVA. The song is ‘Divine Intervention.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Toronto’s Auston Matthews 
notched a hat trick as the Leafs beat New Jersey 7-4 on Monday.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.