At the Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center in Bridgewater, Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-07) today announced that he will introduce legislation titled the "Excellence in Mental Health Act.' Lance's measure would seek to strengthen our Nation's mental health services.
During the event in Somerset County, Lance was joined by officials with the county mental health center and members of the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
"Although many gun-control proposals remain contentious, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle agree that improving mental health care must be a part of any broader effort to reduce gun violence," said Lance. "So today I join colleagues in the U.S. House and Senate in introducing the Excellence in Mental Health Act aimed at expanding and improving access to mental health services at community clinics around the country so that we can better identify and treat those at risk of violent behavior."
The bipartisan measure, introduced with U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), would place community mental health centers on more equal footing with other health centers by improving quality standards and expanding access to ensure more people can get the mental health care they need. There currently are about 2,000 community mental health centers that serve about eight million patients annually across the United States.
Companion legislation in the U.S. Senate is sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Roy Blunt (R-MO).
Specifically, the bill as drafted would give Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs), such as the Bridgewater facility, the opportunity to expand their services and obtain the Federally Qualified Community Behavioral Health Center designation. This designation would allow CMHCs access to additional federal funding if they meet certain criteria, such as providing 24-hour psychiatric care and integrating physical checkups with mental health services.
Supporters believe that the legislation would allow CMHCs to serve an additional 1.5 million patients a year.
Recent data suggests less than one-third of Americans with diagnosable mental illness actually get treatment. Experts estimate that more than half of those who suffer from severe mental disorders do not receive treatment in a given year. And at least 25 percent of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will experience some type of mental health condition.
"Our bill will help address a fragmented mental health system and ensure that more patients have access to the care they need. And by improving quality standards and consolidating various elements of the U.S. mental health system we are spending federal dollars more wisely," added Lance.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, of which Lance is a member, is taking the lead in Congress on examining of mental health treatment, federal grants programs and research into mental illness and gun violence.
The Committee is expected to hold a congressional forum on March 5 bringing together the Nation's top mental health experts, including leading researchers and providers both in the federal government and in private practice as part of the on-going national dialogue on violence, guns and mental illness.
And earlier this month the Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on steps taken to assess and improve the nation¹s mental health system following previous incidences of mass violence. It is also expected to investigate how federal privacy rules affect the ability of state and local governments to share mental health records with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).