SHEPHERDSVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A bill is up for a vote in the U.S. Senate that could provide more treatment for mental health and addiction in Kentucky.
The Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Act was first introduced in 2014. It provided funding for specialized treatment in eight different states for two years, starting in 2017. That funding will expire Sunday.
Michael Petruzzelli is the director for federal policy and advocacy with the National Council for Behavioral Health, which is advocating for the Excellence Act to be extended and incorporate more states that need the funding. Petruzzelli said the funding helped transform the definition and expectation of treatment facilities by creating certified community behavioral clinics. He said these clinics bridge the gap between people who are suffering and the help they need by creating a “one-stop shop” that is all encompassing.
These clinics offer mental health care and addiction treatment in one facility and are required to operate 24-hour crisis centers. Petruzelli said by creating these clinics with a sustainable payment system for the patient and by paying clinics the real cost of doing work, the clinics have been able to hire more staff and expand services. And he said in the eight states that have piloted the program over the past two years, it has also lifted some of the burden off local law enforcement, jails and emergency rooms.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed HR 3253, a Medicaid extension that could help maintain funding for those eight states for two-and-a-half more years. In the Senate, an amendment was added to provide an extra $300 million for two more states: Michigan and Kentucky.
One organization that would be directly impacted by the funding is Centerstone. The group has offers mental health care and addiction treatment in five states, including Kentucky.
“Kentucky has been at the epicenter of the opiate crisis,” said Lauren Conaboy, the vice president of national policy for Centerstone. “In the past five years, we’ve seen a 40% increase in fatal drug overdoses in the state. So Kentucky stands to gain tremendously in saving lives and transforming our health care system.”
She said if Kentucky was added to the list of states receiving the federal funding, it would transform the way Centerstone is able to deliver treatment and in turn help serve more people. These certified community behavioral health clinics would provide everything from care coordination to direct treatment. And they also provide direct links for patients to emergency rooms, correction facilities, law enforcement and community partners.
Conaboy said many people who need help run into the problem of not having access to quick care or not having financial means to pay for it. More funding for these clinics and these services, she said, will help people get the help needed before winding up in the hands of police, jail or an emergency room.
“Something’s gotta give,” Shepherdsville Police Chief Rick McCubbin said. “It’s tying up our officers, our jails (and) our medical facilities.”
McCubbin went to Washington D.C. to speak with Senate and Congressional staffers on behalf of Centerstone and law enforcement in support of the bill. He said in his career, he has learned that Kentucky can’t arrest its way out of this epidemic. He also believes some strategies aren’t working.
“I’ll be very blunt as I normally am,” McCubbin said. “The math does itself. We created a needle exchange program. Usage goes up, overdoses go up, and deaths go up. That’s not a coincidence.”
He likened the needle exchange programs to “giving a fifth of bourbon to the local drunk.” He said the strategy isn’t helping anyone, which is why he supports the need for federal funding to change the way the treatment system works.
McCubbin said his officers will still enforce the law, but for those people who need treatment and not a night in jail, he said these federally funded clinics would provide officers another option to get the help they really need.
“We just need to get them help,” he said. “Because just going to jail, obviously, it hasn’t worked. And with addictions like this, its’s never going to work.”
Last week, HR 3253 passed the House, and it is now in the Senate. A vote is expected before the Fourth of July holiday.
“I have written letters and received a letter back from the Senator’s office,” McCubbin said. “He’s supportive of it, of course. It’s really just reminding Congress as a whole: We need this. And if you’re from Kentucky, we really need it.”
To share your support of this bill, click here to contact your lawmaker.
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