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4/27/2017 Senate approves mental health measures as Mental Health Month kicks off

Craven, Paiva Weed honored with Bell of Hope award

STATE HOUSE – As advocates gathered at the State House to kick off a month of activities promoting mental health, the Senate today approved several measures aimed at improving access to effective mental health care in Rhode Island.

The legislation is part of a package of legislation aimed at improving mental illness prevention and early intervention, access to treatment, and the overall mental health care system, developed after months of hearings by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

“Our legislation was developed to address each of the major constraints on the health care system identified during our hearings. We are taking a multi-pronged approach to address mental health from the earliest ages, through school and adulthood, and throughout the population, including individuals who are homeless or incarcerated. By improving mental health services throughout the system, we will have a solid foundation upon which to build a healthier Rhode Island,” said Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence).

The legislation passed by the Senate today includes:

  • 2017-S 0324A — Sponsored by Chairman Miller, this bill requests that the Department of Health develop a plan to expand the reach of the existing evidence-based family home visiting programs in Rhode Island, including fiscal costs and benefits to gradually expand access to all vulnerable families. The goal of the bill is to gain sufficient state and federal funding to offer home-visiting programs to all pregnant and parenting teens, families with a history of involvement with the child welfare system and other vulnerable families.
  • 2017-S 0328 —  Sponsored by Sen. James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, North Kingstown, Narragansett), this resolution requests that the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) submit a report to address a number of specific mental health service needs, including improving screening and treatment of depression; raising awareness of early childhood adversity; raising the entry level wages of Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals mental health and behavioral health direct-care workers; increasing capacity and reducing obstacles to the use of Crisis Stabilization Units; streamlining license reciprocity to address the shortage of mental health professionals; and several other initiatives.
  • 2017-S 0329A — Also sponsored by Chairman Miller, this legislation seeks to ensure equal access to treatment for mental and behavioral health inpatient and residential treatment as exists for persons with Medical or surgical needs.
  • 2017-S 0330A — Sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), this legislation requires the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner to submit recommendations to ensure insurance providers are complying with mental health parity provisions; that telemedicine reimbursement rates are adequate; and that cost-sharing is not a barrier to accessing care.
  • 2017-S 0331 — This bill sponsored by Sen. Jeanine Calkin (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) would authorize  EOHHS  to apply for waivers to assure overall access to mental and behavioral health care services and improved supportive services and mobile healthcare for the homeless.
  • 2017-S 0332A — Sponsored by Chairman Miller, this bill would require the OHHS to prepare standards for emergency room discharge planning to ensure that persons with a primary mental health diagnosis are referred to appropriate inpatient and outpatient services, extending last year’s Perry/Goldner discharge planning legislation to include mental health emergencies.

Earlier in the day, legislators, health care providers and advocates gathered in the State Room for the “May is Mental Health Month” kickoff. Each May, the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island (MHARI) coordinates a month of events to promote better mental health and to provide education and information to reduce the stigma of mental illness. A full calendar with over 50 activities is being distributed throughout the state.

The event included the presentation of MHARI’s annual Bell of Hope awards to former Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown) and Rep. Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown). The award honors legislators who have made outstanding contributions to advancing mental health care in Rhode Island.

“Representative Robert Craven was selected to receive an award because of his ongoing support of mental health issues. In particular, this year he sponsored legislation aimed at creating a Superior Court diversion program. The legislation calls for a program that would divert from incarceration individuals with mental illness or substance use disorder. We applaud efforts at decriminalizing individuals with behavioral health issues,” said MHARI Executive Director Ruth Feder.

 “Senator Paiva Weed was selected because of her strong support of legislation that resulted from mental health hearings held last fall by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The hearings were led by the committee chair, Senator Josh Miller, who was one of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island's award recipients last year,” said Feder. Former Senator Paiva Weed was unable to attend the event, and Chairman Miller — who received the award last year and in 2013 — accepted it on her behalf.

The kickoff event was emceed by Barbara Morse Silva of Channel 10 News, and speakers included Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, Executive Office of Health and Human Services Acting Secretary Anya Rader Wallack, Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals Acting Director Rebecca Boss, and Department of Children, Youth and Families Director Trista Piccola. The program also included testimony for individuals with personal experience with mental health care.

IN PHOTO:Rep. Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown), right, accepts his Bell of Hope award from Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence), last year's recipient.

For more information, contact:
Legislative Press Bureau,
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457