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Thomas named Legislative Champion by Mental Health America

Rep. Wendi Thomas has been working toward Collaborative Care Models and addressing the mental health needs of students and first responders

Rep. Wendi Thomas has been named a Legislative Champion by Mental Health America, which honors legislators from across the country for their commitment to mental health care reform. Thomas was one of 11 legislators honored across the nation.

“I want to thank Mental Health America for recognizing my work in the state House,” Thomas said. “I am especially honored to receive this award since my fellow PA lawmaker Rep. Mike Schlossberg, was recognized last year. We have been working together to address mental health in Pennsylvania for the last four years.”

In June, Thomas introduced House Bill 2686, legislation to encourage Collaborative Care Models for mental health treatment. It was incorporated into the 2022-23 budget when the legislature included $100 million for community mental health.

The budget also included $100 million for student mental health, an issue Thomas advocated for after one of the youngest students ever to commit suicide died in her district. She held a hearing where experts testified about the growing mental health issues facing students prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also fought to fund programs to help with the mental health needs of first responders during the pandemic

“We are seeing far too many people with mental health care needs who cannot get access to collaborative care,” said Thomas. “With these investments into mental health, Pennsylvania leads the nation in supporting and improving our healthcare system for mental health. I am very proud to have been a champion for this critical issue that impacts so many Pennsylvanians. I am especially excited to support the expansion of the Collaborative Care Model, which will expand access to services to the primary care office.”

Under the Collaborative Care Model system, a care team is led by a primary care provider and includes a consulting psychiatrist and behavioral health care manager. The team cares for a defined group of patients and closely tracks each patient’s progress using an evidence- and measurement-based care plan.

“It can be challenging guiding legislation like mine and Rep. Schlossberg’s through the General Assembly,” said Thomas. “But by shining a spotlight on our work, MHA has helped me make these important initiatives a reality. Still, much work remains in overcoming the challenges to making mental health services more widely available.”

“These legislators are all working tirelessly in their states to improve mental health support and increase access to care for their constituents,” said Debbie Plotnick, executive vice president for state and federal advocacy at MHA. “We at MHA appreciate their commitment and commend their achievements in school-based mental health, parity, crisis care, telehealth and more. They are an inspiration to the other legislators in their states and nationwide.”

“With a growing youth mental health crisis and a growing rate of opioid deaths, we must look toward solutions that expand the capacity of our existing workforce,” Thomas said. “Better care coordination through the integration of mental health care in the primary care setting has been shown to improve patient access, outcomes and satisfaction.”

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