Senator Stabenow Announces Important Step to Improve and Expand Access to Mental Health Care

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

U.S. Debbie Stabenow today announced the launch of a new initiative to expand community mental health services based on her Excellence in Mental Health Act, which was cosponsored by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration began the application process for states interested in being selected for a new eight-state demonstration program that will offer patients increased services like 24-hour crisis psychiatric care, counseling, and integrated treatments for mental illness. Last April, President Obama signed into law Senator Stabenow's Excellence in Mental Health Act, which is one of the most significant steps forward in community mental health funding in decades.

"Mental illness touches every family in some way," Senator Stabenow said. "We need to treat illnesses above the neck the same as we treat illnesses below the neck. Today's announcement is the first concrete step in decades to change the tide and make sure communities in Michigan and across the country have the resources they need to help individuals living with mental illness."

"Senator Debbie Stabenow is to be commended for her leadership and for championing the Excellence in Mental Health Act which is providing us a pathway to securing better overall mental and physical health resources for society's most vulnerable population," said Tom Watkins, President and CEO of Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. "Mental illness touches all of our families and communities in some way - every town, city and state that has dealt with inequality in mental health services for far too long will finally be able to reap the benefits of superior mental healthcare coverage."

"The Excellence in Mental Health Act demonstrates the urgency and importance of providing behavioral supports and services to people living in our communities with mental illnesses and co-occurring substance use disorders," said Jeff Patton, CEO of Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. "This legislation is so important for people in recovery."

States must first apply for planning grants by August 5 and the recipients of those grants are expected to be announced in September. State agencies that are awarded the planning grants will work with interested community mental health centers, Federally-Qualified Health Centers, VA clinics, and other mental health organizations to design a state proposal for participation. Eight state proposals will then be chosen to create a new demonstration program to increase access to community mental health centers and improve the quality of care at those centers. Those programs could then be extended to other states.

Senator Stabenow has been a life-long advocate for quality mental health services. She authored the mental health parity provisions in the Affordable Care Act to stop discrimination in coverage between physical and behavioral health services. Senator Stabenow introduced the Excellence in Mental Health Act with Senator Roy Blunt in 2013 to put mental health centers on a more equal footing with other health centers by improving quality standards and expanding access.

The law is supported by over 50 mental health organizations, veterans organizations and law enforcement organizations including: the National Association of Police Organizations, National Sheriffs' Association, American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Council for Behavioral Healthcare, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health America, National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Give An Hour, among many others.