Shapiro Administration Behavioral Health Council Holds First Meeting, Begins Work to Streamline and Improve Access to Mental Health & Substance Use Disorder Efforts in PA

Governor Shapiro signed an Executive Order creating the Council, the first-of-its-kind for Pennsylvania; as part of the EO, Governor also created an Advisory Committee that will share industry knowledge, expertise, reports, findings, and feedback from the communities they serve to assist the Council in its work to improve the delivery of services.  

Harrisburg, PA – Today the Commonwealth’s Behavioral Health Council held its first meeting, keeping with Governor Josh Shapiro’s commitment to ensure government is delivering for the people of Pennsylvania.

“My Administration is taking a whole of government approach to tackling mental health and substance use disorder in the Commonwealth – and that means ensuring agencies under my jurisdiction are working together to improve our mental health and recovery services, and not operating in silos," said Governor Josh Shapiro. "This Council’s goal is simple, to make it easier for Pennsylvanians to receive the care they need. With today’s inaugural convening, members are getting to work on their efforts to reach across all levels of government and effect real change.” 

The Council, created by Executive Order in October, is the first-of-its-kind for the Commonwealth and will develop and recommend to the Governor a statewide action plan to address any gaps in access, affordability, or delivery of services, with the goal of removing silos across state agencies, healthcare providers, payers, state and local government sectors, and decreasing the wait time for services for Pennsylvanians in need.

With the mental health and substance use crises impacting every community in the Commonwealth, the Council’s work will center on new and innovative care delivery models, workforce challenges, related social needs and inequities, and collaboration between the criminal justice system, public safety networks, and public health organizations to treat the whole person. Council members will also develop specific recommendations to decrease the wait time for care or services for individuals with mental health illness or substance use disorder. 

Charged with setting the agenda for behavioral health under the Shapiro Administration, the Council will be led by Dr. Christina Finello and be comprised of 33 members, including a diverse array of stakeholders with representation from state, county, and local governments, the provider community, advocacy groups, and individuals with lived experiences — all will seek to create a more holistic healthcare delivery system in Pennsylvania. The Council will be supported by an Advisory Committee, with 25 members appointed by the Governor, to help elevate issues from communities across the Commonwealth. The Advisory Committee members will be named in the coming weeks.

“Now is the time for action – I am thrilled to be hosting our first meeting of the Behavioral Health Council today here at the Capitol,” said Dr. Chris Finello. “There is a lot of work ahead for the Council, but the group of individuals we have gathered here is equal to the task. Simultaneously improving access to mental health and substance use services in Pennsylvania makes sense, as the two are so often intertwined. On behalf of the Shapiro Administration, we thank them in advance for their service to the Commonwealth in this important endeavor.”

“I am incredibly humbled and honored to serve as the Chair of this first-of-its-kind Council in the Commonwealth,"said Secretary of Policy and Planning Akbar Hossain. “Addressing mental health and substance use disorder remains a top priority for the Shapiro Administration, and I look forward to working with the members of this Council to develop and implement an action plan that is responsive to the needs of all Pennsylvanians.”

Names of the Behavioral Health Council members are below:

Commonwealth Representatives

  • Secretary of Policy and Planning, Akbar Hossain
  • Secretary of the Department of Human Services, Dr. Valerie Arkoosh
  • Acting Secretary of the Department of Health, Dr. Debra Bogen
  • Commissioner of Pennsylvania Insurance Department, Michael Humphreys
  • Secretary of the Department of Aging, Jason Kavulich
  • Secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Dr. Latika Davis-Jones
  • Secretary of the Department of Education, Dr. Khalid Mumin
  • Adjutant General of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Maj. Gen. Mark J. Schindler
  • Commissioner of Pennsylvania State Police, Colonel Christopher Paris
  • Secretary of the Department of Corrections, Dr. Laurel Harry 
  • Secretary of the Department of State, Al Schmidt
  • Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Russell Redding
  • Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Michael Pennington
  • Secretary of the Department of Labor & Industry, Nancy Walker
  • Director of Digital Strategy at the Governor’s Office, Annie Newman
  • Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Safe2Say Something Program Director, Brittney Kline

Representatives with lived or living experiences and family members:

  • Robert Hamilton, MPPM – Westmoreland DHS Director; Formerly homeless veteran and person in long-term recovery
  • Kate Favata – Community Engagement Manager, Crossroads, Treatment Advocate
  • Jennifer Wilt – Parent of a loved one with mental illness, President NAMI of Cumberland and Perry Counties 

County Representatives:

  • Tina Clymer, County Mental Health Office representing Carbon, Monroe, and Pike counties
  • Dr. Tamra Williams, County Mental Health Office from Montgomery County
  • Ryan Hogan, Single County Authority from Luzerne County
  • Kristin Varner, Single County Authority from Dauphin County
  • Laurie Greco, Area Agency on Aging from Northampton County
  • Dr. Shannah Gillam, Area Agency on Aging from Allegheny County

Clinical Representatives:

  • Dr. Amy Kim, an expert in child and family behavioral healthcare 
  • Dr. Margaret Jarvis, an expert in addiction medicine and substance use disorder treatments.
  • Dr. Jack Todd Wahrenberger, an expert in primary healthcare
  • Dr. Wendy Ross, an expert in treating individuals with co-occurring intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism with mental illness

Legislative Representatives from the General Assembly:

  • Representative Mike Schlossberg (D)
  • Representative Jim Struzzi (R)
  • Senator Maria Collett (D) 
  • Senator Michele Brooks (R) 

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