Lawmakers seek emergency funds to keep mental health, addiction treatment centers open

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Several New York congress members and U.S. Sen Kirsten Gillibrand have sent a letter to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate requesting emergency funding for mental health treatment providers as the nation grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Many behavioral health organizations (BHOs) are at risk of closing down amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, facing a potential $40 billion in revenue loss due to increased need for personal protective equipment, funding for staff overtime, televisits and modifications to outreach. 

BHOs, like the National Council for Behavioral Health and the American Society of Medicine, provide life-saving support to millions of adults, children and families across the country who struggle with a mental illness and addiction.

“With a growing number of Americans in need of behavioral health services and many BHOs at risk of closing, the nation is headed towards another public health crisis,” states the letter, signed by more than 70 Democratic and Republican lawmakers. “To avert another large-scale public health crisis, we must pass a stimulus package that prioritizes the financial security of these vital health care providers and the health of millions of Americans.”

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Bernie sanders of Vermont and Cory Booker of New Jersey are among the signatories. Democratic Congressmen Paul Tonko and Sean Patrick Maloney, Democratic Congresswoman Yvette Clark and Republican Congressman John Katko, all of New York, also signed the letter. 

The letter asks for $38.5 billion in direct emergency funding so they can keep their doors open and continue to provide mental health services during the ongoing pandemic.

“As you negotiate the next stimulus package to mitigate the health and economic effects of the [COVID-19] pandemic, we request that you provide emergency funding to mental health disorder and addiction treatment providers across the country,” the letter states. “Many organizations that primarily treat individuals with mental health and substance use disorders are at risk of closing their doors as a result of the pandemic. 

“The immediate and long-term effects of this cannot be overstated as millions of Americans rely on BHOs to address their mental health and substance use disorder treatment needs.”

House Democrats are currently trying to develop and pass a new aid and stimulus package, even as Republican lawmakers and the president have said another relief package stands no chance of passing right now.

The National Council for Behavioral Health is a group with 3,326 member organizations that serve more than 10 million people living with mental illnesses and addictions by providing access to evidence-based treatments and education. The American Society of Addiction Medicine is a professional medical organization comprised of over 6,000 professionals in the field of addiction medicine, dedicated to increasing access to treatments, education for physicians and the public, and supporting research and prevention. 

Together, the groups came up with the $38.5 billion request in emergency federal funding for BHOs. This request comes in a letter from Charles Ingoglia, President and CEO of National Council for Behavioral Health and Paul Earley, President of American Society of Addiction Medicine, written to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnel, Senate minority Leader, Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

A large portion of these funds would go to BHOs that accept Medicaid and help those who are most vulnerable.

Ingoglia also explained that there is going to be an “aftershock of widespread anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder,” but that it can be prevented by helping BHOs now.

This funding won’t just help those in need, but it will save already-strained emergency departments and urgent cares from a huge wave of those with mental illnesses or addiction.

A national poll reported that 45 percent of American residents feel that COVID-19 has affected their mental health, and a subset of 19 percent said it has had a major impact on their mental health.

“This is the greatest crisis to ever hit mental health and addiction treatment providers,” Ingoglia said. “If we don’t take steps now to avert the collapse of the behavioral health system, we can expect millions of individuals with mental illness and addiction to arrive in overtaxed emergency departments across the nation. The need is immediate. It is also long-term.”