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office of mental health and substance abuse services

ODP Announcement 19-053 announces the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) and the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) are relaunching the Positive Approaches Journal, written by and for professionals who provide supports and services to individuals with mental and behavioral health challenges, intellectual disabilities, autism, and other developmental disabilities.

The Positive Approaches Journal seeks to improve lives by increasing knowledge and capacity of professionals that provide supports and services to individuals currently utilizing services within the ODP and OMHSAS systems. The articles will be written using the guiding principles of Everyday Lives, Child and Adolescent Service System Program (CASSP), System of Care, and the Resilience and Recovery Movement in mind. Through case studies, articles, interviews, and related academic sources, the Positive Approaches Journal will strive to feature resources, observations, and advancements that are relevant and timely to professionals and supporters of human service systems.

The new version of the Positive Approaches Journal will include Data Discoveries, useful data presented in ways that are interesting and customizable. Data presented will be focused on a topic related to each issue theme. This “new” journal will be published quarterly and will be available in digital form online. Please submit any questions via email.


Call for Change Project
In 2004, the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ (OMHSAS) Advisory Committee formed a Recovery Work Group, tasked to explore how to transition the adult mental health system in Pennsylvania into a more recovery-oriented approach. The Recovery Work Group was convened, by invitation, to discuss the process of developing a blueprint for building a recovery-oriented service system in Pennsylvania. This collaboration of broad-based stakeholders resulted in A Call for Change, a document that would outline a destination for Systems Transformation and provide guidance on strategies for how to get there.

Because A Call for Change focused on transforming the adult-serving behavioral health system, in 2010, the OMHSAS Children’s Bureau proceeded with developing a document to guide transformation of the child-serving system to one that promotes resiliency for children, youth, and their families.  A Call for Change: Transformation of the Children’s Behavioral Health System in Pennsylvania was drafted as a strategic plan, identifying an ideal array of services, goals, and prioritized action steps to achieve systems change.

Several years have passed since these documents were developed.  In the Fall of 2018, the OMHSAS Mental Health Planning Council challenged OMHSAS to re-visit A Call for Change, to assess how far Pennsylvania’s  behavioral health system that serves children, youth, and their families, as well as adults and older adults, has progressed with transformation, and to identify priorities for future efforts. OMHSAS agreed to support the assessment of progress and the issuance of A Call for Change, 2019. 

The assessment phase will include regional on-site listening sessions, intended to generate broad-based stakeholder input and dialogue.  Information will be provided on the OMHSAS Listserv as soon as details for the in person listening sessions are available. In addition, OMHSAS is posting an online survey to obtain input from stakeholders who are unable to attend a session.

Any questions or comments related to the Call for Change Project can be directed to this email.

The Dennis Marion Impact Award recognizes local and state government employees whose initiatives, processes, and projects have led to significant improvements in Pennsylvania’s behavioral health service delivery system.


The Dennis Marion Impact Award was established in 2017 in honor of Dennis Marion’s commitment to public service throughout his distinguished career, which spanned over three decades.  Dennis served as Deputy Secretary for Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services’ Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services from 2013 to 2017. Prior to his state employment, Dennis served Cumberland County, Pennsylvania for 31 years in various positions, such as County Administrator, Director of the Drug and Alcohol Commission, and Director of the Office of Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities.

Just like Dennis Marion, whose strong leadership, passion for public service, and commitment to the people he served did not stop at the boundaries of his work in any single county or agency, the Dennis Marion Impact Award recognizes strong performers who bridge disparate missions and drive towards a single goal of excellence in public service.


The purpose of the Dennis Marion Impact Award is to recognize outstanding and meritorious achievement in working for state or local government, encourage the highest standards of performance in Pennsylvania’s public sector, attract outstanding individuals to a career in public service, and highlight public awareness of the value of public service and its impact on the behavioral health and quality of life of individuals and communities.

Eligibility Criteria:

Any current state and/or local government employee in Pennsylvania that has made an outstanding contribution in the area of behavioral health (mental health and/or substance use disorders) in Pennsylvania is eligible for nomination for the Dennis Marion Impact Award.  Individuals that have built effective, collaborative partnerships across different organizations, agencies, and/or other stakeholders to define and solve problems, or reach agreements on a course of action, will be given priority consideration for this award.  Nominees’ contributions may be on a sustained basis or through a single, exceptional accomplishment. Nominations will be judged on three measurements: innovation, implementation, and outcomes.


The nomination form is available hereThe nomination period is from January 1, 2019 to January 31, 2019. Completed nominations must be submitted electronically to lkitner@pacounties.org by 5:00 pm EST on January 31, 2019. No nominations will be accepted before or after the nomination period. Note, individuals may not self-nominate.

The award will be presented at Pennsylvania’s May 2019 Mental Health Awareness Month event in Harrisburg, PA.  Questions regarding this award may be directed to sklucar@pa.gov.

Sponsoring Organizations:

Pennsylvania Department of Human Services – Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Association of County MH/DS Administrators
Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association
Pennsylvania Association of County Drug and Alcohol Administrators
Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association

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The Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) has contracted with Mercer to conduct an extensive analysis related to the factors involved in serving youth with co-occurring mental illness and neurodevelopmental disorders, with a primary focus on youth being admitted to Residential and Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (P/RTFs). The goal of this project is to support identification, adoption, and sustained use of best and promising practices across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and across child-serving agencies for serving this population. Mercer will test numerous hypotheses to identify underlying root causes contributing to ongoing challenges in meeting the needs of this population successfully in the community. This process will be done through:

  • Targeted interviews or focus groups with providers, behavioral health managed care organizations (BH-MCOs), primary contractors (PCs), family members, youth, and other identified system stakeholders;
  • Data analysis; and
  • Other targeted, investigative research.

Mercer will then offer actionable recommendations for systemic interventions to support sustainable improvements and provide ongoing technical assistance to support successful adoption and implementation.

The targeted interviews with the P/RTFs serving this population will be held via in-person focus groups. Mercer is requesting that, at a minimum, members from your leadership and clinical program teams are included as participants as well as any other folks that you deem responsible for the care of the population mentioned above.

It is important that all interviews are completed by the end of the calendar year. Therefore, in an effort to be mindful of possible time off for the holiday season, we would like to schedule in advance over the course of the next two months. Each focus group will be scheduled for two hours; below is the day and time scheduled for the session(s). Please place a hold on your calendars for this date/time. Focus group invite/instructions will be made available in the week.

Providers in the Southeast:
Tuesday, November 27, 2018 • 9:00 am – 11:00 am
OMHSAS Southeast Field Office
1001 Sterigere Street, Building #48, 2nd Floor
Norristown, PA 19401

Providers in the West:
Thursday, November 29, 2018 • 9:00 am – 11:00 am
George Junior Republic, Program Building
233 George Junior Road|
Grove City, PA 16127

Questions should be directed to Robena Spangler or Scott Talley.

The Office of Developmental Programs (ODP), along with the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS), has announced the availability of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instruction. Mental Health First Aid is an 8 hour educational program in use throughout the country to teach people how to identity, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. The training gives you the skills you need to reach out and offer initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem, or experiencing a crisis.

This course does not teach you to be the professional, the therapist, or counselor. The course aims to take the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems by improving understanding and teaching people to safely and responsibly identify and address situations they may encounter.

Through this ODP/OMHSAS initiative, classes are being offered twice a month at varying locations throughout the state and are free to attend. You must register for classes through MyODP. For further information, use this link to ODP Communication 038-18.

The Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) is in the process of reviewing state regulations for inpatient levels of care. The services included in the review are: private psychiatric hospitals, psychiatric units in hospitals, extended acute care (EACs), residential treatment facilities for adults (RTF-As), and residential treatment facilities for youth under 21 (PRTF).

There is interest in involving individuals and stakeholders in the process. A variety of surveys have been developed in order to get input from individuals who may not have the opportunity to participate on statewide work groups and planning meetings. The surveys below are for the following groups:

Thank you in advance for circulating the surveys to the groups listed above. If you have any questions or concerns related to the surveys, please contact Sherry Peters.

The Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) has prepared and distributed a plan for regulatory revisions to be made over the next several years. While there are many regulations currently under review, this plan identifies the next round of revisions. In addition, OMHSAS will work with the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) as indicated while revising the regulations. For more information, please contact OMHSAS directly.

As part of the Collaborative Capacity Building Initiative under the Money Follows the Person Administrative Funds, the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP), in coordination with the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS), is now offering free Mental Health First Aid courses for families, individuals, professionals, clinicians, and community supporters.

Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches you how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training gives you the skills you need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis.

ODP and OMHSAS would like to introduce Jen Bankard as the contractor for this program. Jen is a certified MHFA instructor and has served as both a National Trainer and a Quality Evaluator for the MHFA program. You may contact her directly regarding scheduling a course in your area.

Jen Bankard 
email address: jbankard812@gmail.com
phone number: 717-460-1091

It is the hope of ODP and OMHSAS in this joint program to continue to build capacity to support the complex individual in the community. Please contact her now to schedule, and if you should have any additional questions, you may also contact Marlinda Smith at marlsmith@pa.gov. Please help share this information to others for their awareness and participation.

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Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Human Services Teresa Miller announced the following three staffing changes within the Department of Human Services (DHS):

  • Executive Deputy Secretary. Leesa Allen, currently DHS’ Deputy Secretary for Medical Assistance Programs, will be moving into the Executive Deputy Secretary position. Ms. Allen has more than 23 years of experience in the Commonwealth in positions ranging from children and youth case worker to Chief of Staff for the Office of Medical Assistance Programs (OMAP). She will continue to support OMAP until her replacement is found.
  • Chief of Staff. Johanna Fabian-Marks will serve as DHS Chief of Staff. Ms. Fabian-Marks is coming from the Pennsylvania Insurance Department where she serves as the Special Deputy and Director of Life, Accident, and Health Insurance Product Regulation. Prior to joining the Insurance Department, she worked on implementation of the Affordable Care Act at the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
  • Deputy Secretary, Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS). Lynn Kovich will become the new OMHSAS Deputy Secretary on November 13. Ms. Kovich has 26 years of experience in direct services and administration in both the nonprofit and government sectors, working with individuals who have developmental disabilities, mental illness, and substance use disorders, as well as those experiencing homelessness.

RCPA congratulates each of these individuals and commits to working with them in a constructive manner to advance the best interests of our shared constituencies.

Jessica Penn Shires is the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) representative for the RCPA Criminal Justice Committee. Although Ms. Shires was unable to attend the last committee meeting, she provided RCPA with an important written update. The details are below:

  1. Save the Date: PA Statewide Stepping Up Summit at the Penn Stater, State College on 12/4/2017–12/5/2017. This initiative is in partnership with County Commissioners Association of PA, PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Department of Human Services, the Department of Corrections, and led by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, and the National Association of Counties. More info to come.

Background info:

Statewide Stepping Up Initiative – Formally launched and announced by state-level partners and national initiative partners at CJAB Conference April 4–5, 2017.

  1. Led and staffed by subcommittee of Mental Health Justice Advisory Committee (MHJAC)
  2. Quarterly report will be provided to MHJAC
  3. Goals:
    1. Increase # of counties that join the initiative and formally commit via resolution;
    2. Increase # of counties that apply a data-driven, systems level framework for reducing # of individuals with mental health problems in jails;
  • Increase # of counties that have accurate real-time data;
  1. Help counties enhance diversion options, reentry assistance, and connections to community- based treatment, services and housing; and
  2. Ensure state level policy and funding supports are aligned with county driven efforts to reduce # of individuals with Mental Health problems in jails.
  1. Norristown State Hospital Forensic Update:
    1. Currently have 6 forensic units, 137 beds, and 5 civil units, 122 beds, at NSH.
    2. There will be an increase of 28 beds and creation of a 50 bed forensic unit at NSH by 12/13/2017.
    3. By 12/13/2017 will have 8 forensic units at NSH, 187 beds, and 4 civil units, 100 beds.
    4. By 3/13/2018, up to an additional 30 civil beds will be re-purposed to forensic beds, depending on the rate of civil discharges. Potentially by 3/13/2018, will have 9 forensic units, total of 217 forensic beds and 3 civil units, with 70 beds.
  1. Outpatient Competency Evaluation Program- As of 8/25/2017, completed 612 evaluations, 56% competent, 39% incompetent.

Questions can be directed to Lynn Cooper.