Philly mayoral candidates call for integration in behavioral health services

    Philadelphia mayoral hopeful Lynne Abraham says her mother’s battle with mental illness and ultimate suicide will allow her to run the city’s behavioral health services with compassion and understanding.

    “When I saw my mother in mental hospitals, although they tried to be helpful … over the course of years, I learned that what they were trying to do to her was really cruel and inhumane,” said Abraham, a former city district attorney. “So I know that humane treatment in a community setting is a much better alternative.”

    Abraham and the five other Democratic hopefuls spoke at a candidate’s forum on behavioral health Thursday afternoon at WHYY.

    Critics say Philadelphia treats behavioral health, mental health, addiction, substance abuse and child welfare services as different programs in separate silos, rather than parts of one comprehensive system. Most of the candidates at the forum spoke to the need for more integration of these services.

    “DHS (Department of Human Services) and behavioral health, our systems and practices are not aligned,” said state Sen. Anthony Williams. “These two agencies are responsible for nearly $2 billion, and they don’t operate together.”

    He called for improvements to early childhood education so children with special needs would be identified before starting school.

    Former City Councilman Jim Kenney recommended that basic behavioral health training be extended beyond social workers and health care providers to parks and recreation and schools employees.

    “Every department and every function of government that deals and interacts with people, the employees of those departments need to have some kind of training,” Kenney said. “Some knowledge, sensitivity, training, minimal as it may be, in what to look for, how to deal with people, how to interact with people.”

    The mayor oversees the city’s health and human services programs, which represent nearly $2 billion of the city’s $7 billion budget, according to the event’s organizers, which included the Scattergood Foundation, The Alliance of Community Service Providers and the Pennsylvania Council of Children, Youth and Family Services.

    The Scattergood Foundation funds WHYY programming.

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