2017 Legislative Priorities
The 2017 session of the General Assembly is fast approaching. In preparation, Mental Health America of Georgia has been working diligently to formulate our 2017 legislative priorities.
After careful review and collaboration with our partners, the legislative priorities for 2017 will focus on:
Workforce, Access to Care, and Community.
There are multiple opportunities to advance our agenda – not only with our own legislative asks, but also with those of our partners with whom we will be collaborating on important issues. We are genuinely excited about the conversations going on around mental health policy, and believe the 2017 legislative session holds great promise for our constituency. We are ready to get to work and take the lead.
There are 149 counties in Georgia that are located completely in federally designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. These areas are identified as having a greater than 1:30,000 professional to population ratio. Given this, there is perhaps no greater need facing the mental health system in Georgia than that of increasing the number of qualified mental health professionals to ensure access to care – especially in rural areas of the state. To that end, we will be working to make student loan forgiveness a reality for mental health professionals who commit to practice in under-served areas in Georgia. We have seen this approach succeed in other fields, and it is a model that can easily be replicated for mental health professionals. A loan forgiveness program that is capped at $5 million annually, and $30,000 per applicant annually, would provide support to 166 professionals per year. This could greatly increase access in areas of rural Georgia, where professionals are needed the most.
Access to Care
- In addition to increasing the mental health care workforce, there are three specific proposals we will be working on to promote access. The first is targeted specifically to benefit children. There are many proposals currently in development that we will most likely be supporting. These proposals utilize the recommendations that have come from previous mental health study committees. There has also been discussion of going beyond the recommendations of these committees and creating a Council on Children’s Mental Health Reform, modeled after the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform. This council would make annual recommendations to a legislative committee. The proposals emerging from the Council would have the potential to dramatically improve children’s access to mental health care and the quality of the care they receive. We will work diligently with our partners to help push this critical reform forward.
- The second access issue focuses on maternal mental health. Most OB/GYNs and pediatricians rarely, if ever, have a discussion with pregnant women, or new moms, about the signs and symptoms of maternal mental illnesses. For this reason, we are working on legislation that will provide OB/GYN and pediatrician offices with posters and pamphlets to raise awareness around maternal mental health. Under this proposal, this information would be made available both ante- and postpartum, significantly raising awareness about maternal mental illness. We know this approach works. One study found that 82% of patients noticed posters in their doctor’s office. Of those, 95% reported that they had also read them, and 53% of those reported that they would be interested in more information. By raising awareness, we can identify women who are suffering with these illnesses and intervene with effective treatment – leading to better physical and mental health outcomes for the mother, baby, and entire family unit. In addition, the financial savings will be a boon for the state, given the low estimated cost for the initiative.
- Finally, we would like to see the state invest in a mobile mental health unit. This would be a fully staffed bus unit, capable of rolling into any community in the state and providing a full suite of mental health services. The unit would help to fill provider gaps in rural and urban areas throughout the state. The mobile unit would also have emergency response capabilities and would be available to be deployed at mass casualty events, natural disasters, mass layoffs, or any other event where mental health services may be urgently needed. This would give Georgia the unique capability to begin to provide mental health care to first responders, victims, and witnesses in the first hours of a crisis and put them on a faster path to recovery.
- Establishing strong grassroots community networks are vital to providing the support necessary to connect mental health consumers to the support services they need. The most important aspect of this community building is sufficient supportive housing options. Georgia is significantly lacking in supportive housing for mental healthcare consumers. Without stable living environments, consumers are at risk of cycling through the corrections system, homeless shelters, and hospitals, further burdening these already taxed systems. A study in New York found that supportive housing can reduce recidivism rates by as much as 30%. Supportive housing initiatives would be a great compliment to Governor Deal’s successful criminal justice reform efforts, and we stand ready to support any program that will improve supportive housing in Georgia.
- Additionally, we are seeking to build off the successes of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) for Public Safety and Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. The GBI currently has CIT trainings booked out through 2018, with demand greatly surpassing the number of trainings available. An emerging best practice is to combine the 8-hour MHFA training with the 40-hour CIT trainings to ensure that public safety officers can engage individuals with a mental illness in a safe and effective manner. Providing department-wide MHFA training during in-service programs, academy training, or at other times, is an effective complement to a CIT program. This will ensure that entire departments will have a minimum standard of mental health knowledge while CIT trainings scale up around the state. This will eliminate gaps, leading to a large-scale, sustainable, macro-level response.