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New Legislation Seeks to Improve Access to Community Mental Healthcare
Date:10/18/2007

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --- The nation's mental health system was revitalized with the introduction of landmark legislation in the U.S. Senate yesterday to provide new resources and support for community-based care.

Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Gordon H. Smith (R-OR) introduced S. 2182, the Community Mental Health Services Improvement Act.

The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, which championed the legislation, commends Senators Reed and Smith for their leadership in addressing the mental health needs of the American people. The National Council is the nation's association of community behavioral healthcare organizations and works to ensure that all those who have a mental illness can get effective and comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation in their communities.

"The introduction of this legislation in the Senate is an important milestone in helping the nation's community mental health system meet America's most pressing healthcare challenges today," said Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO of the National Council.

Mental illness in America is more common than cancer, diabetes, or even heart disease. Nearly 60 million people --- one in four adults and one in five children --- have a mental illness that can be diagnosed and treated. Yet the community mental health system --- the only point of care for a majority of people with mental illness --- has been chronically under-funded for many years and struggles to meet basic health needs in the face of low reimbursement rates, shrinking budgets, and workforce shortages.

"Mental illness is just as deadly and serious as a physical illness," said Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-OR). "While effective treatment exists for most people, access to care continues to be a challenge. A federal commitment is needed to ensure care is available when and where it is needed."

Among its main provisions, S. 2182 calls for funding to allow community mental health organizations to provide comprehensive primary care and specialty mental health services in the same setting.

"Only 32 percent of the nation's community mental health providers are able to afford the resources and staff they need to provide onsite medical treatment for hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and other medical conditions, according to a National Council survey," said Charles Ingoglia, the National Council's Vice President, Public Policy. "But it's ironic to address mental illnesses and let patients die from unattended medical conditions! We must treat the whole person and provide integrated mental and physical healthcare where it is easiest for patients to access."

The Community Mental Health Services Improvement Act also provides for innovative programs to address workforce needs in designated mental health professional shortage areas. The act calls for loan forgiveness and repayment as well as expanded education and training to support the recruitment and retention of qualified mental health workers, especially for racial and ethnic minorities.

"Mental health is hardly a lucrative profession. Years of inadequate funding for compensation and training programs have perpetrated a behavioral health workforce crisis!" said Linda Rosenberg. "It's a crisis we must resolve now if we are to continue to provide quality mental healthcare. We must be able to provide robust education programs and pay competitive salaries to attract and keep a skilled workforce. The Community Mental Health Services Improvement Act will go a long way to help," she noted.

S. 2182 also provides for grants to integrate treatment for individuals with a serious mental illness and co-occurring addiction disorders; to help the community mental health system improve information technology; and to establish facilities for tele-psychiatry and patient education in rural and other medically underserved areas.

The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) association representing 1,300 mental health and addictions treatment and rehabilitation organizations that serve nearly six million adults, children, and families in communities across America. Learn more at http://www.TheNationalCouncil.org.


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SOURCE National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare
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