State injects additional $5 million to widen mental health safety net for low-income Tennesseans

State injects additional $5 million to widen mental health safety net for low-income Tennesseans

July 3rd, 2019 by Elizabeth Fite in Local Regional News

More low-income Tennesseans who lack health insurance coverage and don't qualify for TennCare are now eligible for free mental health services thanks to broader eligibility criteria that went into effect this week.

In the past, the state's Behavioral Health Safety Net program only covered individuals whose incomes were 100% of the Federal Poverty Level. Now, an additional $5 million from the state will widen the program's income criteria to 138% of the poverty level and expand eligibility to about 7,000 more Tennesseans, according to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

That means that single adults age 19 and older who make $17,236 per year or who are in a family of four that makes $35,535 can access essential mental health services, including assessment and evaluation, case management, medication management, psycho-social rehabilitation, therapeutic interventions and transportation to appointments from participating providers.

"I'm so grateful to the governor and state lawmakers for expanding this impactful program," said Marie Williams, commissioner of the state's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. "Mental health safety net services are an essential bridge to better mental health, and we know they reduce the need for costly inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. With our partner providers across the state, this program enables Tennesseans to get the treatment they need and return to their lives."

One of those partner providers includes Volunteer Behavioral Health, which offers prevention, treatment and recovery services in 31 counties in Middle, East and the Upper Cumberland regions. The group's Chattanooga office is Johnson Mental Health.

Carrie Robinson, senior VP of operations for Volunteer Behavioral Health, said in the past people have made as little as $100 too much to qualify.

"When you think of the word safety net, it catches people that are left out," Robinson said. "Now, with the new financial guidelines, we're able to go back through and look at some applications and see if they may be able to qualify."

Robinson said the program is a lifeline for those who would otherwise not be able to afford treatment. People can call 877-567-6051 to schedule an assessment.

Since it began in 2005, more than 168,000 individuals have received services through the safety net, according to the news release. In recent years, the Behavioral Health Safety Net has served about 32,000 Tennesseans annually.

Behavioral Health Safety Net services are provided through contracted community mental health centers at 146 office locations across Tennessee. For more information on the Behavioral Health Safety Net visit

Contact Elizabeth Fite at or 423-757-6673.