Progress doesn’t come easily. It requires careful planning, hard work and a little bit of luck. Two of those – careful planning and hard work – will be on full display next week when we host #HillDayatHome – the most important advocacy event to promote and pursue the legislative goals for mental health and substance use treatment organizations in North America. Hill Day at Home will take place on October 19.
Thousands of people throughout the industry – more than 20 advocacy groups, physicians, clinicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, case managers, patient advocates, policy makers, people with lived experience and our partner organizations – will gather virtually for the one advocacy event in our field that brings everyone together.
The timing of this year’s Hill Day at Home is crucial.
We know from National Council members that nearly 80% of them have seen an increase in demand for mental health and substance use treatment over the past three months, continuing a steady rise that began more than a year ago. We also know significant workforce shortages have made it increasingly difficult for mental health and substance use treatment organizations to keep pace with the increase in demand.
It’s vital that we speak with one voice if we hope to get the attention of lawmakers and build on the progress we’ve made over the past year because the pandemic has reinforced longstanding obstacles – inequity, barriers to access and institutional racism to name a few – and created new ones – a mental health pandemic, an increase in substance use challenges and an overdose crisis.
To help people and communities, we will pursue a legislative agenda to bolster Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs), ensure that 988 and crisis care in other forms roll out smoothly and serve as effective resources in communities, improve our nation’s response to the substance use crisis and address the profound workforce shortage that makes it so difficult for mental health and substance use treatment organizations to provide services to those in need.
CCBHCs: The Future of Healthcare Delivery
CCBHCs provide a full array of services and supports, integrated with primary care and coordinated with other social service providers. In addition to dramatically increasing access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment, CCBHCs have reduced wait times, expanded states’ capacity to address the overdose crisis and established innovative partnerships with law enforcement, schools and hospitals to improve care, reduce recidivism and prevent hospital readmissions.
The legislation would allow any state the option to apply to participate in the CCBHC demonstration program, and it would authorize the continued allocation of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration CCBHC Expansion Grants.
988 and Crisis Care Require Immediate Attention
We’ve made significant progress on this initiative to launch an easy-to-remember crisis phone line. But more work remains before the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline transitions to 988 in July 2022, with numerous legislative proposals in need of congressional approval.
We are urging the passage of a comprehensive congressional response to bolster the crisis care continuum. Behavioral Health Crisis Services Expansion Act (S. 1902) and calling for modifications to Social Security and Medicaid including greater funding, extending and expanding crisis care options and clarifying the IMD prohibition to exclude psychiatric acute care crisis beds. We must also incentivize investments in crisis care continuum, the workforce and capital development.
Congress also must authorize and appropriate funds for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Lifeline Call Centers, Behavioral Health Crisis Coordinating Office, Crisis Services through the Mental Health Block Grant and the Mental Health Crisis Response Partnership Pilot Program.
Curbing the Substance Use Crisis
Our substance use crisis has spiraled out of control, but we have proposed alternatives to help us navigate through this crisis.
The Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act (S. 445/H.R. 1384) the Medication Access and Training Expansion (MATE) Act (S. 2235/H.R. 2067) and the Medicaid Reentry Act (S. 285/H.R. 955) all are intended to provide organizations and communities with greater resources to help those with a substance use challenge. Congress should pass these all these bills to ensure continuity of care and standardized education of prescribers.
Expanding access to medication-assisted treatment and bolstering healthcare services for justice-involved individuals are two important strategies that should be implemented as soon as possible.
Let’s Fix our Workforce Shortage
We can’t address historic demand for mental health and substance use treatment organizations if we don’t have the resources to help.
We know the depth of the problem. Recruiting and retaining employees is a huge barrier, with 97% of National Council members saying it has been difficult to recruit employees and 78% of them calling it “very difficult.”
The Mental Health Access Improvement Act (S. 828 /H.R. 432) and the Promoting Effective and Empowering Recovery Services in Medicare (PEERS) Act (S. 2144/H.R. 2767) outline federal solutions and are under consideration by Congress.
Hill Day is Every Day
“Hill Day is our opportunity to advocate for improvements in treatment for mental health and substance use challenges. It’s also an opportunity for everyone throughout our industry to join together.”
And while I know we can be successful in our efforts to raise awareness about the need for more resources, we must also remember how important it is that our advocacy work extends beyond Hill Day. Because we won’t make meaningful progress on these important issues if we limit our advocacy to one day a year.
People face mental health and substance use challenges every day, so our advocacy efforts must occur every day.
(he/him/his) President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing