News & Press
Community Wellness: 'Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act’
By Robert Lathers, LMSW
CEO, Ionia County Community Mental Health – The Right Door for Hope, Recovery and Wellness
Posted Nov. 6, 2015 at 10:41 PM
On Wednesday, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health approved H.R. 2646, the bipartisan Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, and advanced it to the full committee for review.
Many Americans have major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and go without treatment. Families can struggle with finding care for their loved ones.
In spite of some of controversial claims regarding mental health care in America, the so-called “Murphy bill,” named for one of the bill’s authors, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), does have a number of proactive recommendations to improve health care in our country.
The bill proposes the following:
Empowers Parents and Caregivers
- Breaks down barriers for families to work with doctors and mental health professionals and be meaningful partners in the front-line care delivery team.
Drives Evidence-Based Care
- Creates an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders with mental health credentials within the Department of Health and Human Services to elevate the importance of mental health in the nation’s leading health agency, coordinate programs across different agencies, and promote effective evidence-based programs.
Further Refines Mental Health & Substance Abuse Parity
- Requires the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders to make public all federal investigations into compliance with the parity law so families and consumers know what treatment they have rights to access.
- Establishes a National Mental Health Policy Laboratory to drive innovative models of care, develop evidence-based and peer-review standards for grant programs. Dedicates funding for Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative (BRAIN Initiative).
Improving Transition from One Level of Care to Another
- Requires psychiatric hospitals to establish clear and effective discharge planning to ensure a timely and smooth transition from the hospital to appropriate post-hospital care and services.
Fixes Shortage of Crisis Mental Health Beds
- Provides additional psychiatric hospital beds for those experiencing an acute mental health crisis and in need of short term (less than 30 days) immediate inpatient care for patient stabilization.
Reaching Underserved and Rural Populations
- Advances tele-psychiatry to link pediatricians and primary care doctors with psychiatrists and psychologists in areas where patients don’t have access to needed care.
Focuses on Mental Health Workforce
- Requires the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders to study and recommend a national strategy for increasing the number of psychiatrists, child and adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, clinical social workers, and mental health peer-support specialists.
- Includes child and adolescent psychiatrists in the National Health Service Corps.
Advances Early Intervention and Prevention Programs
- Authorizes, for the first time in federal law, the Recovery After Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE), an evidence-based early intervention program.
- Reauthorizes the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
- Launches a new early childhood grant program to provide intensive services for children with serious emotional disturbances in an educational setting.
Alternatives to Institutionalization
- Incentivizes states to provide community-based alternatives to institutionalization for those with serious mental illness, such as Assisted Outpatient Treatment and other assertive-care community approaches.
Focuses on Suicide Prevention
- Reauthorizes the Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Program, invests in research on self-directed violence and for the first time authorizes in statute the Suicide Prevention Hotline
Advances Integration Between Primary & Behavioral Care
- Extends health information technology for mental health providers to coordinate care with primary care doctors using electronic medical records.
Increases Program Coordination Across the Federal Government
- Establishes Interagency Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee to organize, integrate, and coordinate the research, treatment, housing and services for individuals with substance use disorders and mental illness.
Effective Protection and Advocacy
- Focuses on the rights of individuals with mental illness to be free from abuse and neglect while ensuring access to, and the ability to obtain treatment for serious mental illness.
- Fixes the broken grievance procedure by providing an independent pathway so families can once again participate in the protection, care and advocacy on behalf of their loved one.
Increases Physician Volunteerism
- Ends the decades-old prohibition on physicians seeking to dedicate time volunteering at community mental health clinics and federally-qualified health centers.
The bill has more than 160 cosponsors and has been endorsed by national mental health and law enforcement organizations, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Jail Association; newspaper editors, physicians and parents of children with mental illness.
Murphy’s detractors have three concerns with his bill: erosion of patient privacy, lack of investment, and certain court-mandated treatment programs; and there will no doubt be changes to the bill as it moves forward. To become law, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act would require approval by the Energy Committee, and then the House of Representatives, the Senate and finally, President Obama.
At the same time the House is wrestling with mental health reform, similar measures are awaiting committee hearings in the Senate. While no one knows which package, if either, will prevail, it’s gratifying to see discussion about mental health moving to the forefront of our legislators’ sizable list of issues for consideration.
Robert Lathers, LMSW, is the CEO of Ionia County Community Mental Health, soon to be “The Right Door for Hope, Recovery and Wellness.” His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He welcomes your comments and questions.