The federal government is pumping millions more dollars into an effort to expand the United States' network of community mental health centers.
Up to 15 states now can apply for $1 million grants to help plan new Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) in their region, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Tuesday. Funding for the grants was included in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, passed earlier this year.
These crisis centers are available around the clock to help anyone with mental health or substance abuse problems, regardless of their ability to pay.
The $15 million in additional planning funds is in addition to nearly $300 million awarded in September for new and existing CCBHCs, the agency said.
“Today we're talking about providing to Americans 24/7 support for crisis care,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said during a media briefing. “That's something that's only been available to some. Depending on your income and your ZIP code, you could be totally out of luck. That's going to start to change.”
The strategy is to provide enough funding that at least 10 more states will be able to open their own local CCBHCs every two years, gradually expanding a network of crisis centers across the nation, said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a leader of the bipartisan 2014 Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act that created CCBHCs.
Ten states -- Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon and Pennsylvania -- are operating CCBHCs as part of a demonstration program created by the 2014 law.
Early next year, federal officials expect to name up to 15 states that will receive $1 million one-year planning grants. From that group, 10 states will be selected in 2024 to join the demonstration project.
“Step by step, we are going to take this nationwide,” said the law's other major sponsor, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Statistics from the 10 states now in the program show how the effort is “changing people's lives already,” Stabenow said.
“People who receive services at CCBHCs show a 72% reduction in hospitalization; 69% reduction in emergency room visits; 41% decrease in homelessness; and they spent 60% less time in jails,” she said.
CCBHCs are reimbursed through Medicaid for the full cost of services they provide at higher, more competitive rates than community mental health centers now receive, the HHS said.
However, they are also subject to exacting quality standards and are required to get people into care more quickly. A CCBHC must provide routine outpatient care within 10 business days after an initial contact, to keep people from languishing on waiting lists, the agency said.
Expansion of the CCBHC program is part of the Biden administration's effort to tackle America's mental health crisis, joining the launch of the 988 crisis line in July, Becerra said.
The 988 line is “the 911 for those who are about to do something they should not do with their own life,” Becerra said. “988 becomes a place where you get help, and if we do it right, when you call that three-digit number you will get the support you need -- and you will get the support you need because we now will be establishing nationwide Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.”
Sgt. Chad Matthews, supervisor of the Crisis Response Support Section with the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland, said these crisis centers are helping take pressure off police officers, who are often the first responders in a mental health crisis.
“The available options for most police officers when encountering someone experiencing a mental health crisis is either a trip to a hospital or a jail cell,” Matthews said at the briefing. "The problem for law enforcement is simple -- how do we best help those experiencing a mental health or behavioral health crisis? We know the answer isn't criminalizing mental health, and we also know that emergency rooms are not equipped to handle someone in a mental health crisis.”
These new crisis centers are “vital to bridging the gap between a law enforcement encounter and treatment,” Matthews said.
The hope is that the stigma around mental health eventually will dissolve as treatment becomes routinely available, Blunt said.
“We need to get to where, as a society, we're just as willing to talk to your friends about somebody in your family who has a mental health problem as somebody who has another kind of health problem,” he said.
“You know, there's not very much hesitancy to talk about my mom or my dad or my child has cancer,” Blunt continued. “We should get to where we can talk about mental health with the same ease, with an understanding that this is a health problem. It is almost always, almost 100% of the time, a problem that can be dealt with in a way that people continue to be able to be part of their family and part of their community.”
The National Council for Mental Wellbeing has more about Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.
SOURCES: Oct. 18, 2022, media briefing with: Xavier Becerra, secretary, U.S. Health and Human Services; U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.); U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.); Sgt. Chad Matthews, supervisor, Crisis Response Support Section, Montgomery County Police Department, Maryland