Senators Stabenow, Blunt Announce Important Step to Improve and Expand Access to Mental Health Care

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) today announced the launch of a new initiative to expand community mental health services based on her Excellence in Mental Health Act. 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 Senators Stabenow and Blunt'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."

"Nearly one in four Americans live with diagnosable mental illness," Senator Blunt said. "We must start to treat behavioral illnesses just like any other physical illness and this program is an important step forward as we work to reach that goal. I'm pleased to see the Excellence in Mental Health Act move forward so we can help communities in Missouri and nationwide come together and have a system to address mental illness."

"The Excellence in Mental Health Act will expand Americans' access to lifesaving mental health and addiction care, while supporting providers with the resources they need to serve all individuals in their communities," said Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. "Participation in the Excellence Act demonstration program will enable states to supports comprehensive, coordinated behavioral health care. We pledge to continue working side by side with Senators Debbie Stabenow and Roy Blunt to ensure that one day all states will be able to participate."

"The Excellence in Mental Health Act is a critical piece of legislation that was developed in response to a huge need in our country," said Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, founder and president of Give an Hour. "There are far too many Americans who suffer unnecessarily with unmet mental health needs and untreated mental illnesses. Thanks to the launch of the eight-state demonstration project made possible because of Senators Stabenow and Blunt's leadership and this legislation, new and innovative programs designed to improve access to care will be created, refined and replicated. In order to build healthy families and healthy communities - we must change the culture of mental health in America."

"Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we at Sandy Hook Promise have advocated for the expansion of critical mental health services so that more people can have access to high quality, integrated mental health care, and those who are in crisis can get help before anyone gets hurt," said Mark Barden, Advocacy Director at Sandy Hook Promise. "These grants will undoubtedly save lives and we are grateful to Senators Stabenow and Blunt for their leadership and tireless advocacy."

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.