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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Meade

2017-2018 NAMI Mass Legislative Priorities 2-26-17

2017-2018 NAMI Mass Legislative Priorities

DMH Funding

NAMI Mass’ #1 priority has always been and continues to be advocating increased funding to the Department of Mental Health (DMH) budget. NAMI Mass is encouraged that the trend over the past several years has been first to restore devastating cuts and then, more recently, modest increases in critical funding for DMH services. NAMI Mass looks forward to working with legislators and the Baker Administration throughout the FY2019 budget process to ensure this trend continues.

A Comprehensive, Sustainable Police and First Responder Mental Health Training Program

Throughout the Commonwealth, people with mental illness and substance use disorders are arrested and incarcerated at disproportionate rates, leading to devastating consequences for individuals, families, and communities. Proven strategies can reverse this trend by focusing on the initial point of contact with law enforcement, diverting people who pose no safety risk to appropriate treatment instead of arrest. These strategies consist of two main components:

• Quality mental health training for police officers: Officers gain necessary skills to recognize symptoms of mental illness, verbally de-escalate potentially dangerous situations, and refer individuals to appropriate treatment.

• Collaborations across disciplines: Partnerships between law enforcement, mental health providers, and a range of other local resources help communities develop specialized responses to complex issues that span mental health, substance use, housing, and other challenges.

Pockets of excellence and innovation around the state have successfully diverted people with mental illness from jails and prisons and have increased access to services. Many more are eager to move in this direction as well.

Sadly, the Commonwealth has not yet allocated sufficient resources necessary to bring these local successes to scale. If the Legislature capitalizes on the growing jail diversion momentum in Massachusetts, it can effect sustainable change that improves the health and safety of all communities. Passing three key bills (below – HD 3570 HD 2601 and Senate Bill #1090) will put us on a path to avoid unnecessary arrest and incarceration statewide.

Bridgewater State Hospital

For decades, the Commonwealth has asked its state prisons to take responsibility for people who have human services issue like mental illness and substance use disorders. In virtually every other state in the country, these same individuals would be cared for by the state mental health and public health systems.

People who have not been convicted of a crime and all those who meet the very strict criteria for civil commitment must be the sole responsibility of our state mental health and public health systems, not kept at Bridgewater State “Hospital” as is the current practice in Massachusetts. Continuing to require our state prisons to care for them is costly, both in economic and human terms.

Expand Emergency Service Provider Coverage (ESP’s) to All

An ESP is a community-based and recovery-oriented service. It provides behavioral health crisis assessment, intervention, and stabilization services for people with psychiatric illness. ESP teams have trained psychiatric clinicians that are “mobile” and will travel to the location of the crisis– home, school or community locations. Currently, individuals on MassHealth are covered by ESP services but many people with private health insurance do not have access to these essential and oftentimes life-saving services.

Reimbursement rates for MassHealth for hospitals that are closing psych units

NAMI Mass supports a significant and sustainable increase to MassHealth’s budget so hospitals can afford to provide inpatient psychiatric services within their communities, and so out-patient mental health clinics can remain open and operating. It is unfair and inhumane to force families to wait for days before they can find an inpatient bed for a loved one who is suffering. It is unacceptable that mental health clinics are closing and reducing their patient load when the need is so great. Behavioral health needs cannot be met when MassHealth reimbursement rates are so inadequate. NAMI Mass calls for a comprehensive remedy to this problem in the FY2019 budget by increasing funding to ensure adequate access to critical hospital and outpatient services throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

NAMI Priority Bills Filed for 2017-2018

A Comprehensive, Sustainable Police and First Responder Mental Health Training Program

Senate Bill #1090 & House Docket #2601
An Act to establish the Center of Excellence in Community Policing and Behavioral Health Sponsored by Senator Kenneth Donnelly and Representative Elizabeth Malia
House Docket #3570 An Act relative to Enhancing Municipal Police Training Sponsored by Representative Linda Campbell

Police officers are key first responders. With the right mental health training and partnerships, police and first responders can de-escalate situations, prevent unnecessary arrest or violence, reduce the likelihood of injury to themselves or the individuals they detain and connect people to appropriate treatment and support. However, only 17% of police departments in Massachusetts have access to adequate mental health training. Without a cohesive statewide strategy, police efforts are disjointed and both officers and community members are at risk. These bills will:

• Expand vitally-needed access to mental health training to every police department in the state.
• Foster partnerships between criminal justice and health provider agencies.
• Evaluate and coordinate best practices.

Massachusetts lags behind the rest of the country in terms of how we respond to people with mental health and/or substance use crises in our communities:

• 50% of those in Mass jails and houses of correction have a mental health condition.
• Many of these arrests are for minor, “quality of life” offenses – symptoms of behavioral health conditions rather than criminal behavior.
• Once arrested, the consequences are devastating: trauma, loss of employment and housing, risk of injury, worsening of symptoms, significant public costs, and more.

Bridgewater State Hospital

Senate Bill #1084 An Act to transfer Bridgewater State Hospital from the DOC to the DMH Sponsored by Senator Cynthia Creem
House Docket #2341 An Act to transfer Bridgewater State Hospital from the DOC to the DMH Sponsored by Representative Ruth Balser

Massachusetts must catch up to the rest of the country regarding incarceration of people suffering with mental illness. The bills would transfer the responsibility for the operation and oversight of Bridgewater State “Hospital” away from the Department of Correction and to the Department of Mental Health. Only a full transfer will ensure the proper care for the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable and sick patients. No civilized society should remand citizens to jail because they have mental illness. The Department of Mental Health can ensure that these people are treated like patients, not prisoners, and promote a healthy, humane recovery oriented environment for people whose only crime is mental illness.

Emergency Psychiatric Services – Expand Coverage by Private Health Insurers

Senate Docket #525 An Act requiring insurance coverage for emergency psychiatric services  Sponsored By Senator Jamie Eldridge
House Docket #1979 An Act to Require Health Care Coverage for Emergency Psychiatric Services Sponsored by Representative Ruth Balser

These two bills require commercial insurance companies to pay for behavioral health emergency services provided by emergency services providers (ESPs) across the state. Presently, children and adults who receive MassHealth benefits are covered by ESP providers but unfortunately, most children and adults with private health insurance are not. This must change.

Updated February 26th, 2017

NAMI Massachusetts Position Papers: 

Efforts to Decriminalize Addiction Must Include Mental Health (PDF)

Supporting Law Enforcement: The Vital Next Step in the Decriminalization of Mental Illness (PDF)

Separating Myth from Fact: Unlinking Mental Illness and Violence and Implications for Gun Control Legislation and Public Policy (PDF)

Revised Report Issued May 27, 2014: WAY BEHIND: Report on the State of Mental Health in 2014 (PDF)

The Massachusetts Mental Health System is Critically Underfunded (PDF)

Massachusetts Emergency Behavioral Health Services Program (PDF) Mass. Legislator Website Find Your Legislators: To find who your legislators are or where to vote call 617-722-2000

Massachusetts Legislature

Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse