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Shelley Starkey

Federal Advocacy Groups Urge Continued Support for Behavioral Health During Pandemic

April 10, 2020 | COVID-19 | Comments
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The National Council continued its advocacy efforts this week with legislators and administration officials, urging the allocation of nearly $40 billion in emergency funds for providers of mental health and addiction treatment services. National Council President and CEO Chuck Ingoglia participated in a call with the White House on Thursday and spoke directly to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about the field’s needs for emergency appropriations to avert a large-scale public health calamity. We are also actively engaging with Congress, leadership in the Trump Administration, and state and local leaders to ensure fixes to the continued problems our members have made us aware of, including increasing access to telehealth services and equipment and expanding crisis stabilization services across the country.

CONTINUING INVESTMENTS IN BEHAVIORAL HEALTH FIELD

In its request to Congressional and administrative leadership to infuse $38.5 billion in emergency funds, the National Council highlighted that all mental health and/or addiction providers and organizations are in an economic crisis and in jeopardy of failing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If these organizations fail, millions of people living with mental illness or addiction will flood health centers, urgent care facilities and emergency departments, all of which are already over-burdened. The mental health and addiction field needs emergency funding in the next legislative package to combat the economic and health care effects of COVID-19, maintain operations and ensure stability for the duration of the crisis.

Further, the National Council has joined with other organizations to request supports beyond this emergency infusion of funds, including:

  • Increase access to telehealth & crisis response programs: The Mental Health Liaison Group, of which the National Council is a founding member, sent a letter to Congressional leadership urging the provision of funds for virtual peer support programs, including group support meetings, for individuals with mental health conditions and substance use disorders. A group of 22 state and national mental health advocacy groups also requested that Congress, in addition to including the $38.5 billion ask, invest $10 billion in emergency funding to expand services to meet increased demand in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including quickly transitioning the current national suicide prevention lifeline to the 9-8-8 dialing code and enhancing local crisis response programs.
  • States should invest funds in behavioral health: The National Council authored a letter to national associations of state behavioral health leaders including NASMHPD, NASADAD, and NAMD, requesting these associations urge their members to begin making interim prospective payments to all mental health and/or addiction treatment organizations in their states to support these critical entities in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This would complement funding coming from the federal government to keep these organizations afloat through these trying times. The National Council thanks NAMD for making progress on this front by sending a letter to CMS and the Office of Management and Budget, calling for them to allow states to make retainer payments to essential Medicaid providers.

FINE-TUNING CURRENT SUPPORTS

The National Council greatly appreciates the attention that the federal government has paid toward supporting mental health and substance use disorder treatment providers through the pandemic thus far. The CARES Act, signed into law two weeks ago, provided a number of financial supports for National Council members, including emergency funds for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to administer, and federal loan programs for small and mid-sized businesses. The National Council has reached out to thank various leaders for their work to secure these supports and has offered recommendations on how to administer them to best address community needs.

  • Directing SAMHSA Funds Where Needed Most: The National Council wrote a letter to SAMHSA’s Assistant Secretary Eleanor McCance-Katz, making recommendations on how to direct the $250 million in emergency funding appropriated to the agency for behavioral health organizations in the CARES Act. Specifically, National Council suggested that SAMHSA should:
    • Extend eligibility for direct funds beyond the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) to reach all community behavioral health organizations and community addiction treatment providers.
    • Secure personal protective equipment (PPE) to provide to frontline staff members in behavioral health organizations.
    • Assist all mental health and/or addiction and organizations with covering personnel costs including sick leave, overtime pay, hazard pay and shift differential pay.
    • Assist with the purchase of equipment needed to provide telehealth, including laptops, cameras, and IT systems.

TAKE ACTION

As COVID-19 has spread fear and anxiety across our nation, National Council has repeatedly asked its members what they need and how we can help. Those voices have been heard, and our members’ needs are overwhelmingly clear: on-the-ground mental health and/or addiction providers and organizations need personal protective equipment, telehealth technologies, and most importantly, financial resources to keep organizations’ doors open and the lights on. Take two minutes today to urge your Member of Congress to support our request of $38.5 billion in direct payments to providers of mental health and addiction treatment services. Take action now.