Helping a loved one who is experiencing a severe mental illness, especially someone who may not realize they are sick, is one of the greatest gifts you can give. For some, it may mean the difference between life and tragedy. ~ Treatment Advocacy Center
For Immediate Release: November 23, 2015 Contact: Murphy Press, 202.225.2301 (Washington, D.C.) The Sarasota Herald-Tribune published an editorial yesterday calling on Congress to respond to Rep. Tim Murphy’s landmark Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, H.R. 2646, noting how the bill streamlines programs, promotes interagency collaboration and forces the SAMHSA to more actively assess and coordinate programs.
Editorial: Bill targets mental health crisis Editorial Board Sarasota Herald Tribune November 22, 2015
The lack of a cost-effective mental health care system in the United States results in outcomes that are both painfully hidden and obvious.
We wrote those words in August 2014, after a leading advocate of reforming that system visited Sarasota. Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican from Pennsylvania, used the occasion to tout the "Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act."
The bill didn't pass, and the system's outcomes have become even more painfully obvious.
- Local governments in Manatee and Sarasota counties have increasingly cited mental illnesses, and inadequate care, as substantial contributors to chronic adult homelessness. Some experts estimate that, nationwide, at least one-third of homeless adults have a mental illness.
- Reports in the Herald-Tribune underscored the problems. A project on schizophrenia, led by Carrie Seidman, included accounts from family members who have struggled to help relatives receive and coordinate the treatment they need. A series by the Herald-Tribune and Tampa Bay Times focused on patient abuse and management shortcomings in some of Florida's remaining mental health hospitals.
Fortunately, Murphy -- the only member of Congress who is a clinical psychologist -- has persisted in his pursuit of reform.
In June, Murphy and Eddie Bernice Johnson -- a Texas Democrat who is a psychiatric nurse -- filed H.R. 2646, which revised last year's legislation. To date, 117 Republicans and 46 Democrats have signed onto the bill. In Florida, 10 Republicans -- including Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key -- and three Democrats are co-sponsors; in California, 12 Democrats and seven Republicans are co-sponsors. Clearly, there is potential for bipartisanship.
The new bill and its predecessor were filed after Murphy, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Committee, held extensive hearings and community meetings on mental health policies and practices. His calls for sweeping reforms, including restructuring federal agencies, were buttressed by a critical report issued in February by the Government Accountability Office.
The GAO cited, among other deficiencies, a lack of coordination among the eight agencies that run more than 100 federal programs involved in mental health. Programs are inadequately reviewed, the report said. The founder of a mental illness policy organization summarized an important part of the report, telling USA Today that it showed "no one is in charge of reducing homelessness, arrest, suicide and violence by people with serious mental illness."
Murphy's bill seeks to streamline programs, promote interagency collaboration and force the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to more actively assess and coordinate programs. It calls for re-enforcing the work of effective, affordable community-based programs while, at the same time, increasing the number of inpatient psychiatric-care beds. The legislation would remove impediments that prevent Medicaid and Medicare from covering certain forms of cost-effective treatment.
Perhaps most important, H.R. 2646 would make two other substantial changes. It would:
1. Create limited exemptions to patient-privacy laws that currently can prevent family members from obtaining basic information about a mentally ill relative's diagnosis, medicines, appointments and other chronic illnesses -- even if the patient's condition is deteriorating and threatening. Privacy and the protection of rights are vital but currently there are too many barriers for caregivers who are essential to recovery.
2. Provide incentives for states to fund "assisted outpatient treatment." AOT programs allow judges to order patients incapable of caring for themselves to undergo treatment in the community, rather than in a jail or hospital.
Implementation of these changes would require oversight, but they seem necessary and beneficial.
Murphy does not understate the challenge when he calls reform a "national emergency." He has placed the equivalent of a 911 call to Washington, D.C. Will Congress respond?