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News & Press: Legislative & Policy Updates

Steil introduces bill to boost mental health funding

Tuesday, August 11, 2020  
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August 11, Wisconsin Health News

U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, said last week he's introducing legislation that aims to provide more resources to support children’s mental health, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The bipartisan bill would establish a $1 billion program at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that would award grants to states, based on population, to help address the rise in mental health and substance abuse expenses during the pandemic. 

States could use the money for 24/7 crisis call centers, support for front-line healthcare workers, training for healthcare workforce and community members and partnerships with police departments, schools, community organizations and others to expand resources. 

“What we saw this spring was a real uptick in the need for people to obtain mental health services that are so critical for everyone,” Steil said at a virtual forum last week. “We saw rates rise dramatically at some of the key call centers across the country, which to me is symbolic of that need that’s out there.” 

Dr. Anita Everett, director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, said that the pandemic is “brand new territory for all of us.” She said that providing tools for parents during this time is important. 

“How do we help parents who are trying to juggle a lot of things, including being in a situation of being around their children more than they’re accustomed to?” she said.

Amy Herbst, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin vice president of mental health, said continued access to mental healthcare via telehealth is crucial. She said providers shifted gears in the early stages of the pandemic to continue to offer mental healthcare. 

Herbst said federal waivers that expanded access to telehealth should continue.

“That has allowed us to take care of kids all over the state of Wisconsin in a way that continued their care and started care for kids who weren’t established patients with us,” Herbst said. “It has to be true going forward. We don’t see any other way.” 

Dr. Michelle Rose-Barajas, a licensed psychologist at Mercyhealth, said one of the challenges they’re facing is “uncharted territory” as working with kids as a therapist is usually hands on. 

“There’s going to need to be some resources put into really making sure there’s some evidence-based treatments that can be provided via this platform, via telehealth,” Rose-Barajas said. 

Kelli Thompson, Wisconsin State Public defender, predicted a sharp increase in mental health issues.

“We just know anecdotally it’s just a significant increase in anxiety and depression and how that is acting out in the criminal justice system, especially with our children and in their families," she said. "What will be terrific will be going forward how to continue to knock down some of those barriers, how to continue to think outside the box, but really how to strengthen some of those structures."