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HHS announces $50M in new mental health funding


By Jessica Zigmond
Posted: December 10, 2013 - 4:15 pm ET
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The nation's community health centers will have the opportunity to establish or expand behavioral health services at their facilities with help from some of the $50 million in mental health services funding that HHS announced Tuesday.

The announcement comes days before the one-year anniversary of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which prompted a burst of attention to the weaknesses in the delivery of mental healthcare in the U.S.

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HHS estimates that the new mental health funding through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act could help expand behavioral health services in about 200 existing health centers across the country.

“Most behavioral health conditions are treatable, yet too many Americans are not able to get needed treatment,” Mary Wakefield, administrator of HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration, said in a statement. “These new Affordable Care Act funds will expand the capacity of our network of community health centers to respond to the mental health needs in their communities.”

Within days after 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and 6 adults, and then himself, lawmakers on Capitol called for action to fix America's mental health services infrastructure, which experts have said for years is sorely lacking and worsening under the weight of federal and state budget cuts and sequestration. A month after the Sandy Hook shooting, President Barack Obama unveiled a national gun-control initiative that included expansion of mental health services in America as one of its core components.

But it didn't take long for the issue to fall flat—only to resurface in September after Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old Navy reservist, murdered 12 people in a shooting spree at Washington's Navy Yard before he was gunned down by police. At that time, Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) renewed their calls for Congress to improve mental healthcare services nationwide through legislation.

Their Excellence in Mental Health Act—which the senators had proposed as an amendment to Sen. Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) ill-fated gun-control bill in May—would establish criteria for federally qualified community health centers based on evidence-based quality standards and reporting measures to make sure those centers cover a wide range of outpatient and crisis services and also better integrate physical and mental healthcare. Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) have a companion bill in the lower chamber.

And the House can expect to see more mental healthcare legislation later this week. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a psychologist, will hold a news conference Thursday to introduce legislation that includes mental healthcare reforms. As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Committee, Murphy has spent the last year examining the country's troubled mental healthcare system through meetings and hearings. His legislation is expected to address increasing inpatient and outpatient treatment options, clarifying standards used to commit a person to medical care, and moving toward data-driven, evidence-based models of care so that people access treatment through the healthcare system, as opposed to the criminal justice system.

Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter: @MHjzigmond


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