How to Advocate for Mental Health and Student Safety

By Kendra Stea | Posted on 03.28.2014 | 0 comments
Recently I attended the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems 2014 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.
This is always an interesting gathering. With full parity upon us and the Affordable Care Act in place, there was much to discuss.

The meeting is a gathering of CEOs, COOs, CNOs, CFOs, medical directors, etc. from leading psychiatric providers throughout the US. Whether they’re from primarily free-standing psychiatric hospitals or integrated health systems with a large number of psychiatric beds in their hospitals, they gather to discuss industry trends and advance public policy.
I think this is what I like the most. It isn’t just about what’s going on in the industry, it’s also a concerted effort to advance the public policy that affects mental health and substance use services. Time is carved out to visit Capitol Hill, and many speakers are policymakers from the Hill.
This year these three primary items were on the advocacy agenda:
  • Support funding for health information technology for mental health.
    • Ask your congressmen to cosponsor H.R. 2957/S. 1517/S. 1685/H.R. 3717.
  • Fix gaps in the mental health/addiction treatment system.
    • Support the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 3717)
  • End discrimination.
    • Modify the Medicaid “Institution for Mental Disease” (IMD) exclusion.
Here’s what that means:
Support funding for health information technology for mental health.
Did you know that behavioral health and substance use services are excluded from many of the IT incentive payments through Medicare? Bills like H.R. 2957/S. 1517/S. 1685/H.R. 3717 extend current provisions offered in some settings to those behavioral health and substance use programs that are currently excluded. This is another example of parity being implemented.
Fix gaps in the mental health/addiction treatment systems.
Following the tragic incidents in Newtown, CT; Aurora, CO; Tucson, AZ; and, more recently, the incident in which Senator Creigh Deeds (D-VA) was stabbed by his son, who subsequently committed suicide, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) introduced H.R. 3717.
In all of these tragedies there were identified gaps in treatment for the individuals who perpetrated violence during a psychotic episode. We know all too well the statistics: Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for individuals ages 25 to 34; nearly one in five Americans has a mental illness; two-thirds of adults with serious functional impairments due to emotional and behavioral health problems do not receive mental health treatment, and so on. Learn more about what the passing of this important piece of legislation could do.
Modify the Medicaid “Institution for Mental Disease” (IMD) exclusion.
The IMD exclusion was a part of the original Medicaid program enacted in 1965. The IMD exclusion disallows Medicaid federal matching payments for inpatient psychiatric care to Medicaid patients between ages 21 to 64 if the services are provided in state mental hospitals or private, not-for-profit or for-profit freestanding psychiatric hospitals.

The result is that the general hospitals (not considered IMDs) are being flooded with psychiatric patients in need of inpatient care because we are no longer primarily providing inpatient psychiatric care through state institutions. Individuals are diverted from these IMDs to general hospitals that are less equipped to manage their complex care. Learn more
And so I went to the Hill, not only to take along information about these three important topics, but also to meet with Wisconsin Senators Johnson (R-WI) and Baldwin (D-WI).
You see, at CPI not only do we advocate and promote change for individuals with mental health and substance use issues, we also advocate and support the implementation of rules and regulations guiding staff actions in an emergency.
As many of you may know, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) recently reintroduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act. This is the fourth year in a row that such a bill has been introduced in either the House or the Senate. Each year it’s stalled in one committee or another. This federal bill would guide schools in the minimum standards around the use of restraint and seclusion and would require training from a state-approved, nationally recognized training program for staff.
I’m not sure if the bill will move out of the Senate HELP committee, but I do know that it is a gift to live in a country where I can so freely participate in our legislative process. Despite differences of opinions, it’s meaningful to have the ear of your representatives and their staff, even if for only a few minutes.
I am a strong believer that you never know when something you say will change someone’s view on an important issue. So, call them—your senators and representatives—call them and tell them about the mental health advocacy agenda supported by NAPHS and tell them about supporting the Keeping All Students Safe Act.

You might change someone’s mind.

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