Framework for the Philanthropic Support of Crisis Services

A growing number of philanthropists are exploring the impact of developing a universally available, community-based system of care for people experiencing mental health and substance use disorder (MH/SUD) crises and emergencies. Such a system would be built on principles of racial justice, health equity, digital health and advanced technologies, local control, and financial sustainability. One key outcome of this system is that jails, emergency rooms, and prisons are no longer the default response for people with MH/ SUD conditions when they experience a crisis or emergency. 

Building and sustaining such a system across every community and state in America will take many billions of dollars and far exceeds the direct reach of philanthropy. Nonetheless, philanthropy can employ strategic levers and catalytic opportunities to help create a bridge between our current fragmented MH/SUD response to the integrated, community-based system that has long been the vision of policy experts as well as affected individuals and their families. 

This brief lays out strategic options for how philanthropy can help build that bridge. It explores the full range of issues involved, including philanthropy’s unique role in stimulating private and public funding as well as innovative approaches that leverage both, such as social impact bonds. It also discusses how national philanthropy can best partner with local philanthropy and identifies the key roles for each. 

Some of the strategies explored in this brief include:

  • Supporting Sustainable Reimbursement and Financing 
  • Demonstrating and Scaling Best Practices through New Public Funds
  • Social Impact Bonds
  • Supporting Change in Local Communities
  • Promoting Place-Based Philanthropy through National/Local Partnerships

In summary, philanthropy has multiple avenues to create exponential financial and social impacts by helping develop a universally available, community-based system for behavioral health crisis and emergency services and integrating it with existing health care and reimbursement systems. National philanthropists can spur broader funding by leveraging a wide range of existing funding streams, including federal grants, state and local funding, private investment, employer-funded insurance, and local philanthropy. The current moment offers a critical opportunity to help usher in a brand-new standard of practice.