Bay Staters, including the Commonwealth’s youngest residents, could soon benefit from expanding access to mental and behavioral health care after legislation passed by the House of Representatives this week to combat a growing gap in treatment and preventive services.
The House, in a unanimous vote Thursday night, introduced a bill calling for an online portal to track psychiatric family available at facilities across Massachusetts.
Like their Senate counterparts, state representatives say the provision will ease the emergency department boarding crunch, where patients may wait days or weeks for a bed to be available. Lawmakers have long lamented that this outcome would not be tolerated for physical ailments, including broken bones.
Promoting youth mental health is at the forefront of the House bill, as is enforcement of insurance parity laws to ensure that behavioral health care and medical or surgical care coverage are treated equitably.
“The policies we are voting on today will benefit every component of every community across the Commonwealth, which is something we can and should all be proud of,” said Representative Adrian Madaro, House Speaker of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Use. And recovery, he said on the floor of the house Thursday. “In this legislation, the House is focusing on the most pressing needs of the Commonwealth: strengthening acute mental care, behavioral health for young people, strengthening community behavioral health services, investing in and supporting the workforce, and achieving parity, including – delayed implementation and enforcement of policies already on the books “.
Under the legislation, school boards and charter school boards of trustees are tasked with developing mental health and medical emergency plans, based on collaboration with mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, and other school staff. But the plan should also be designed to provide appropriate care for students experiencing emergencies — and reduce law enforcement involvement and the potential for arrests on school property, according to the bill.
Referring to recent mass shootings in New York and Texas, Maduro said the bill calls for a public awareness campaign of the state’s red flag laws, which limit people’s access to firearms if they are at risk of harming themselves or others.
In the face of a shortage of mental health workers in Commonwealth countries, the bill proposes significant investments in hiring and retaining workers. One competitive grant program would provide a funding boost to providers in historically marginalized communities, Maduro said, as lawmakers seek to “improve culturally, linguistically and ethnically competent care.”
“We have always prided ourselves on having one of the best healthcare systems in the country,” Maduro said. “Today, we strive to deliver on that promise and more. This bill could not be more timely or needed.”
But Representative Tami Gouveia, the running mate, has voiced support for the bill while urging her colleagues to pursue more aggressive mental health reforms. The House of Representatives rejected its amendment for the state of Massachusetts to conduct a study of short- and long-term barriers to students aspiring to a career in human services, as well as behavioral and mental health services.
“This law alone does not address the urgent and pressing needs facing our young people, our working adults, college students and seniors — and the support and compensation mental health care workers need and deserve,” Gouvia said. “In a situation where a third of the adult population requires behavioral health care for themselves or close relatives, we know we have to do more. In a state where 26% of our population — one in four — require mental health treatment or behavioral health care and cannot get On it, we know we have to do more.”
State Representative Marjorie Decker, House chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Public Health, said the bill should make significant strides in combating the stigma surrounding mental health. It also reimagines and integrates Bay Staters care, simplifying communication across primary care and behavioral health care providers.
“If you’re in a situation where you’re trying to make sure all of your behavioral health, mental health, and primary care providers understand what’s at stake in your body, heart, and mind, this is a massive change,” Decker said.
In his opening speech, State Representative Michael Kuchmeric spoke about his deep personal connection to the bill. Kuchmeric said his father “ruined” 50 years of drug use and eventually became homeless, while his mother was forced to “pain in the emergency room waiting for a mental health bed.”
As Kuchmeric sees it, his family’s tragedy has been “decades in the making,” due to the consequences of insufficient resources and the prevailing stigma.
“During decades of societal inaction, we have fundamentally failed to address and remove the stigma of behavioral health,” Kuchmeric said. “All the while insurers have reaped huge profits while at the same time funding behavioral health as if it were an extracurricular activity at a summer camp. As painful as the lessons were to me, I gained understanding, empathy, and compassion through my experience as a caregiver.”
Maduro told reporters earlier this week that the House bill was drafted for him A supplement to the ABC Mental Health Act 2.0 of the Senatewhich was approved by senators last fall as they warned the Commonwealth’s mental health crisis was exacerbated by the coronavirus.
Senate President Karen SpelkaA staunch supporter of mental health care reform, she praised the council for advancing her chamber’s work.
“If there is any silver lining to COVID-19 “Pandemic, more people are willing to speak out about their need for quality mental and behavioral health care,” Spelka said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, ahead of the formal House hearing. However, our delivery system is broken, and people cannot easily get the care they need and deserve. With the passage of this bill from the House Ways and Means Committee, we are one step closer to transforming this delivery system.”