Ad­vo­cat­ing for men­tal health on Capi­tol Hill

Calhoun Times - - FRONT PAGE -

By Me­lanie Dal­las, LPC

As one of Ge­or­gia’s stat­edes­ig­nated be­hav­ioral health au­thor­i­ties, High­land Rivers Health con­sis­tently advocates for poli­cies and fund­ing that sup­port qual­ity men­tal health and sub­stance use treat­ment ser­vices in our re­gion and across the state.

Our agency is in al­most con­stant con­tact with lead­ers of the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Be­hav­ioral Health and De­vel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties to keep them up- to- date about the needs of the in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties we serve, and how state poli­cies can con­tinue to en­hance lo­cal ser­vices.

We also meet reg­u­larly with state leg­is­la­tors that rep­re­sent the coun­ties served by High­land Rivers – be­fore and dur­ing each year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion – to ad­vo­cate for spe­cific bills and leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives that will in­crease fund­ing for and ac­cess to be­hav­ioral health ser­vices in our com­mu­ni­ties.

Re­cently, High­land Rivers took our mes­sage of ad­vo­cacy even fur­ther, all the way to Wash­ing­ton, D. C., for the Na­tional Coun­cil for Be­hav­ioral Health’s 2017 Hill Day. There we joined more than 500 be­hav­ioral health providers, advocates and in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing in re­cov­ery to call for in­creased fund­ing for men­tal health and sub­stance use treat­ment di­rectly with members of Con­gress.

Ap­prox­i­mately 20 in­di­vid­u­als from Ge­or­gia at­tended Hill Day, in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from other com­mu­nity ser­vices boards like High­land Rivers, the Ge­or­gia As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Boards ( GACSB), men­tal health advocates and in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing in re­cov­ery. Our state group met with all 16 members of Ge­or­gia’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion or their staff members. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from High­land Rivers met with staff of Con­gress­man Tom Graves, Con­gress­man Barry Lou­d­er­milk, Sen­a­tor Johnny Isak­son, and di­rectly with Con­gress­man Rick Allen.

The Na­tional Coun­cil iden­ti­fied five leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties for which Hill Day at­ten­dees were asked to ad­vo­cate with their mem­ber of Con­gress:

- Strength­en­ing the Ad­dic­tion Treat­ment Work­force Act ( S. 1453). This bill would add ad­dic­tion treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties to Na­tional Health Ser­vice Corps sites where treat­ment pro­fes­sion­als would be el­i­gi­ble for loan for­give­ness, at­tract­ing more treat­ment pro­fes­sion­als to un­der­served ar­eas.

- Men­tal Health Ac­cess Im­prove­ment Act of 2017 ( H. R. 3032). This leg­is­la­tion would al­low li­censed mar­riage and fam­ily ther­a­pists and li­censed men­tal health coun­selors to bill Medi­care for their ser­vices, in­creas­ing ac­cess to men­tal health ser­vices for older adults.

- Im­prov­ing Ac­cess to Be­hav­ioral Health In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Act ( S. 1732/ H. R. 3331).

Seek­ing to en­hance ef­fi­ciency and care co­or­di­na­tion, this bill would sup­port wider adop­tion of elec­tronic health records by be­hav­ioral health providers.

- Ex­cel­lence in Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tion Treat­ment Ex­pan­sion Act. This ini­tia­tive seeks to ex­pand a pre­vi­ous two- year demon­stra­tion project to ex­pand ac­cess to be­hav­ioral health care by es­tab­lish­ing stan­dards for Cer­ti­fied Com­mu­nity Be­hav­ioral Health Clin­ics and set­ting a Med­i­caid re­im­burse­ment rate that ad­e­quately sup­ports costs.

- FY 2018 Men­tal Health and Sub­stance Use Ap­pro­pri­a­tions. The be­hav­ioral health sys­tem in­cludes many el­e­ments and ini­tia­tives, all of which are crit­i­cal. Spe­cific ap­pro­pri­a­tions sup­port fed­eral agen­cies ( such as the Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, and the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices), as well as re­search, ed­u­ca­tion and fund­ing for pro­grams at the state and lo­cal lev­els.

High­land Rivers is proud to be an ad­vo­cate for high qual­ity and af­ford­able be­hav­ioral health ser­vices lo­cally, on the state level and na­tion­ally. If sup­port a strong men­tal health and ad­dic­tion treat­ment sys­tem in Ge­or­gia and the U. S., please con­tact your rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Con­gress and make your voice heard too.

Me­lanie Dal­las is a li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor and CEO of High­land Rivers Health, which pro­vides treat­ment and re­cov­ery ser­vices for in­di­vid­u­als with men­tal ill­ness, sub­stance use dis­or­ders, and in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties in a 12- county re­gion of north­west Ge­or­gia that in­cludes Bar­tow, Chero­kee, Floyd, Fan­nin, Gilmer, Gor­don, Har­al­son, Mur­ray, Pauld­ing, Pick­ens, Polk and Whit­field coun­ties.

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