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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman John Katko (24th District of New York)

Providers in CNY and Across the Country are at Risk of Closing Due to COVID-19 Pandemic, Endangering Those Who Rely on Their Services

SYRACUSE, NY— This week, U.S. Rep. John Katko (R, NY-24) led a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers in requesting that Congressional Leaders direct emergency funds to support mental health and addiction treatment providers in Central New York and across the country as they work to respond to an increased need for services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the Central New York community, the emotional and economic repercussions from the pandemic has resulted in an increased need for mental health and substance use disorder treatment services. But, at time in which these services are most needed, many local mental health and addiction treatment providers are at risk of closing their doors amid economic uncertainty. To provide these vital organizations with the support they need, Rep. Katko led a group of Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate in urging Congressional Leaders to approve at least $38.5 billion in funds for providers in Central New York and across the country in the next COVID-19 relief package.

“In Central New York, many local mental health disorder and addiction treatment providers are being forced to make tough financial decisions as they work to meet an increased need for their services,” said Rep. Katko. “In an effort to support these organizations, I am joining lawmakers from across the aisle in urging Congressional Leaders to direct emergency funds to behavioral health organizations in Central New York and across the country. Now more than ever, it is imperative mental health and addiction treatment providers have the resources they need to treat individuals in our community who are struggling with the emotional toll of this crisis. By providing direct support, we will ensure local providers are able to keep their doors open and can continue to reach and treat those in need during these trying times.”

“Millions of Americans struggle with a mental health issue and the current pandemic will only increase the need for behavioral health supports,” said Paul Joslyn, Executive Director of AccessCNY a provider of mental health services based in Syracuse, NY.  “We are grateful for Rep. Katko’s effort to add funding in the next coronavirus stimulus package to support mental health providers and those we serve. Our staff are essential workers and as providers we’re operating at maximum capacity. Those added costs, along with new needs around PPE and telehealth are pushing a system already at the brink to the edge. A legacy of this pandemic will be a growing need for behavioral health support, and we must be prepared to meet this next public health crisis. By providing emergency behavioral health funding now we can assure that providers are ready and able to meet the mental health fall out of this pandemic.”

“Helio Health has been responding to the impact of this pandemic while still battling an opiate use and overdose epidemic, the financial strain of both of these public health threats has compounded to weaken our nations behavioral health infrastructure, when we need it the most,” said Jeremy Klemanski, President & CEO, Helio Health. “Our communities will need increased mental health and substance use disorder prevention, treatment, and recovery services and supports as we adjust to a new way of life and heal from the trauma many people are experiencing. Congressman Katko’s leadership to advance our request for aid for Behavioral Health care providers is critical.”

Rep. Katko requested these funds alongside U.S. Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA-06), Paul Tonko (D-NY-20), Joe Kennedy III (D, MA-4); Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI); and 68 other Senate and House colleagues.

The full text of their request can be found below:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:

As you negotiate the next stimulus package to mitigate the health and economic effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, we request that you provide emergency funding to mental health disorder and addiction treatment providers across the country. Many organizations that primarily treat individuals with mental health and/or substance use disorders (collectively, behavioral health organizations or “BHOs”) are at risk of closing their doors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The immediate and long-term effects of this cannot be overstated as millions of Americans rely on BHOs to address their mental health and substance use disorder treatment needs. As such, we request that you provide at least $38.5 billion in emergency funding to BHOs across the country that utilize evidence-based practices, with a significant portion of these emergency funds set aside for BHOs enrolled in Medicaid and provide care to underserved groups, or those who otherwise lack coverage for needed behavioral and mental health care.

Millions of individuals, children, and families across the country struggle with mental illness or addiction each and every day. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 1 in 5 adults, over 47 million people, reported struggling with mental illness, and over 10 million reported suicidal thoughts. These numbers are particularly concerning among the nation’s youth. 1 in 7 youth aged 12 to 17, or 3.5 million adolescents, reported experiencing a major depressive episode in 2018, and record numbers of adolescents have attempted or considered suicide in recent years. In addition to age disparities, it has been found that people of color, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and people living in rural communities are less likely to have access to mental health care and more likely to receive lower quality care. Further, over 20 million Americans are living with substance use disorder, including 2 million who have opioid use disorder.

The numbers of Americans struggling with mental illness will only continue to grow as families and individuals face the emotional and economic repercussions of the pandemic. A recent poll found that the pandemic and its resultant social and economic impacts are already taking a heavy toll on Americans’ mental health. 45 percent of respondents reported that the pandemic is negatively affecting their mental health, up from 32 percent just a month prior.5 Experts have even suggested that long-term social distancing from friends, loved ones, and a departure from routine may have both short- and long-term psychological effects. This, compounded with increasing financial strain and underlying disparities in mental health care access and quality of care, could have dire consequences. Anecdotal reports have indicated that rates of consumption of alcohol and other addictive substances are on the rise. Furthermore, social distancing measures have created barriers to accessing treatment, which has only been exacerbated by a scarcity of available providers as they either fall ill or become overloaded with patients.

BHOs are crucial to the provision of behavioral health care to Americans across the country who rely on them for a variety of services, but are being burdened by the pandemic. BHOs may provide counseling services to individuals, families, and children struggling with depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and countless other mental illnesses. Additionally, licensed practitioners at BHOs may provide lifesaving medication assisted treatment to individuals with opioid and other substance use disorders. Without this medical treatment, patients in recovery are at higher risk for relapse, overdose, or overdose related death. These services will become all the more important as COVID-19 continues to spread and the need for mental health disorder and addiction treatment services grows. However, because of the health and economic impacts of the pandemic and the growing number of patients, many BHOs are at risk of closing their doors. Some BHOs have projected nearly $40 billion in lost revenue as a direct result of increased staff overtime to meet patient need, increased need for PPE, and the implementation of telehealth services. The impact of such a shortfall would be significant, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the lives of all Americans.

BHOs have not been sufficiently included in response efforts to date. Congress has passed four stimulus packages to bolster the nation’s response to COVID-19. However, none have addressed the growing challenge to and need for BHOs. With a growing number of Americans in need of behavioral health services and many BHOs at risk of closing, the nation is headed towards another public health crisis. To avert another large-scale public health crisis, we must pass a stimulus package that prioritizes the financial security of these vital health care providers and the health of millions of Americans. As such, we respectfully request that at least $38.5 billion in emergency aid is provided to BHOs that can meet at least one of the following three criteria: accredited by an independent, national accrediting organization or receive state or tribal funding or qualify as community mental health centers as defined in Section 1913(c) of the Public Health Service Act. This will allow these critical mental health and addiction treatment providers to keep their doors open and continue providing crucial treatment to Americans during these trying times. We are also supportive of efforts, led by our colleagues, to boost critical funding at the Department of Health and Human Services for mental and behavioral health initiatives, including the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Indian Health Service (IHS), and Health Resources and Services Administration programs, as well as specific programs that support the mental and behavioral health of American Indian and Alaska Native populations like the SAMHSA Tribal Behavioral Health Grants, and funding for the Mental Health and Alcohol & Substance Abuse line items in the IHS budget.

We thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to working together to ensure that any economic stimulus package provides much needed relief for our nation’s BHOs.