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Chuck Ingoglia

President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health

Lawmakers and Public Voice Support for Greater Investment in Care for Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders

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Access has always represented one of our nation’s most formidable health care challenges.

The pandemic has made barriers to access more imposing in communities across the country, due in no small part to the economic impact of a pandemic that has forced so many organizations providing mental health and substance use disorder programs to make drastic cuts.

But the pandemic also has fueled massive demand for those programs, and now our nation is likely to face an unprecedented wave of mental illness and substance use – a second pandemic.

In April, the National Council and its member organizations began urging lawmakers to make emergency funding available to preserve mental health and substance use disorder treatment and services and fend off this second pandemic.

We often represented a solitary voice. Until now.

A new poll shows the public supports greater federal funding for programs to help those with mental illness and substance use disorders.

In a recent survey conducted by Morning Consult, a majority of registered voters (57%) said they think the country is on the wrong track when it comes to addressing mental health and addiction recovery amidst COVID-19. In addition, 84% of those surveyed voiced bipartisan support for increased funding for mental health and addiction recovery treatment – 80% of Republicans and 91% of Democrats.

The pandemic has fueled the public’s concern, with 51% of respondents saying the pandemic has influenced their immediate family members’ mental health and substance use and nearly half (47%) saying the pandemic also has affected their own mental health and substance use.

This week, even more voices joined our call for more resources.

A congressional report released November 30 confirmed what we’ve been saying all along and supports the National Council’s request for emergency funding so organizations providing mental health and substance use disorder treatment and services can restore programs, re-open or remain open and provide the care people need in a safe environment.

Congressional investigators found that “the need for behavioral health services is on the rise” and that the pandemic has increased demand for the treatment and services National Council member organizations provide in their communities.

“As the… pandemic continues, mental health care needs are increasing, and people in need of behavioral health treatment are especially vulnerable. Isolation, job loss, reduced income, and anxiety about health risks are all associated with worsened mental health and substance use,” the report says.

The report serves as an important acknowledgment – from those in position to address the problem – that we are under-funding care for mental illness and substance use in America.

Congressional investigators also found that like doctors and nurses serving in hospitals, those who work in facilities providing mental health and substance use disorder treatment and services face an elevated risk of contracting the coronavirus because of their interaction with clients. In other words, National Council member organizations are also on the frontlines. Despite those risks, our member organizations found themselves at the back of the line at the beginning of the pandemic when they requested masks and other personal protective equipment for staff and clients.

“Given these needs, federal, state, and local governments should provide all necessary assistance and ensure that these facilities have adequate testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other resources needed to prevent and control the disease,” the report says.

“All necessary assistance” must also include access to vaccines. It’s vital that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides all health care workers the same access to COVID-19 vaccines. But the CDC’s vaccine distribution recommendations, issued December 1, did not make clear where behavioral health care organizations stand, despite their essential work with clients. In response, we sent a letter this week, along with other stakeholders, to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, CDC Director Robert Redfield and Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Chair Dr. José Romero urging them to include those at mental health and substance use disorder treatment facilities among the essential frontline health care workers who will be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines.

Mental illness and substance use disorders continue to ravish communities. Demand for treatment and services is as great as ever.

Lawmakers must step up if our nation has any hope of preventing a second pandemic.

Greater federal, state and local resources to fund investments in testing and PPE will help facilities reopen, restore programs and keep workers safe. And an acknowledgement from the CDC that workers at those facilities deserve priority when vaccines are distributed will keep people alive.