State allocates millions in ARPA money to child mental health

By: - August 18, 2022 5:59 am

The funding approved Wednesday expires in 2025.  Continuing beyond then will cost about $28 million a year, with much of it expected to come from Medicaid. (Nevada Current file photo)

Nevada’s inadequate mental health system will get millions of dollars in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act after a unanimous vote Wednesday by members of the Interim Finance Committee. 

“We’re going to make a huge generational change for the children,” Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton said of the effort to bridge the state’s fragmented system.  

“Our children’s mental health system in the state has always been fragile. The pandemic shredded it,”  Barbara Buckley, executive director of Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada told members of the committee. “We have parents giving up their children because they can’t get mental health services.” 

Buckley, a former lawmaker and the first woman to serve as Speaker of the Nevada Assembly, said the funding recommendations are based on the work of a statewide coalition that mobilized a year ago to address the crisis at the direction of Gov. Steve Sisolak.  She said the continuum of care begins with “in home services to keep people out of the expensive residential treatment centers. We don’t want kids to get to that level.”

Last year, the Current reported the Department of Justice is investigating the state, which is housing hundreds of youth in out-of state residential facilities, even as beds in local facilities remain open for lack of staff.

Among the programs approved by IFC: 

  • $1,570,516 for mobile crisis response teams for Clark and Washoe School Districts
  • $326,354 to fund ten public service intern positions at Department of Child and Family Services   
  • $4,885,798 to provide  funding  to  China  Spring  Youth  Camp  and  Aurora  Pines  Youth  Camp and mental health services for special populations of children and families
  • $2,041,322 to fund 16 new positions for the establishment of a Children’s Behavioral Health Authority and to provide oversight of ARPA funding
  • $7,314,984 to fund a new Clinical Program Planner 2 position and wraparound and intensive care coordination for youth with intensive needs
  • $1,430,349 to fund  one  new  position  and  emergency  and  planned  respite  services
  • $2,431,165 to fund one new position and intensive family in-home services.

Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus, a Republican, questioned the wisdom of funding new positions when some state departments are experiencing critical staffing shortages.

Dr. Cindy Pitlock, director of the Department of Children and Family Services, put the vacancy rate between 22% and 50% for some agencies within DCFS. 

“We cannot afford to wait. These parents who came to talk to us this morning cannot afford to wait,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said of the parents and grandparents who told the committee of their struggles to obtain services for their children.   

The funding approved Wednesday expires in 2025.  Continuing beyond then will cost about $28 million a year, with much of it expected to come from Medicaid.  

 The IFC also approved the following uses of ARPA money: 

  • $1,283,619  to  the  Nevada  Department  of Education to fund a contract for End-of-Course assessments for the 2022-23 school year
  • $548,809  to fund  a  unified  communications  pilot  project  and  state  agency  telecommunications technology  survey  to  help  modernize  state  government  services  and  reduce  future costs  
  • $367,956  to support a position and associated costs as well as operating and  contract  staff  to  support  warehouse  operations
  • $15,000,000 to administer grants to qualifying charter schools in  Nevada  to  augment  programs  implemented  to  address  the  impacts  of  learning  loss experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • $87,690  to fund  new  flooring  in several  buildings at Desert Regional Center, a mental health facility in Southern Nevada
  • $8,527,243 to  support  an  allocation  to fund diagnostic and therapeutic  provider services for autism 
  • $160,000 to fund contractual obligations for a biennial internal security risk assessment.
  • $862,544 to upgrade  of the  agency’s electronic  health  record  software
  • $475,000 to fund anti-ligature     furniture     upgrades     in     patient     rooms     at     the     Stein     and Rawson-Neal Hospitals. 
  • $1,581,115 to fund the replacement and installation of security cameras and related equipment at the Lakes Crossing Center
  • $239,112 to purchase and install security cameras at various Nevada Parole and Probation (NPP) offices statewide
  • $359,795 to support the replacement of two mechanic service vehicles for Division of Forestry
  • $37,800 for a training management system for the Commission on Ethics

“Capital improvement projects, even when delayed, are not what Congress had in mind when they passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) during the pandemic,” Steven Cohen wrote in a rare public comment opposing a funding item. He took issue with  replacing flooring in Desert Regional Center, a Las Vegas psychiatric facilility. “This $87,600 could instead fund quality services for a Desert Regional Center client for part of a fiscal year.”

Others suggested privately that funding of this magnitude should be determined by the entire Legislature, rather than the IFC.

Nevada received $1 billion in coronavirus rescue funds. Sisolak and lawmakers have yet to allocate all the funds.

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.