Mental health and substance use treatment and care remain elusive for too many people, despite the overwhelming need.
President Biden last week proposed new rules that could change that by eliminating gaping loopholes in mental health coverage. He also said something else meaningful. The president acknowledged the role Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) play in eliminating barriers to access.
“These clinics provide a range of services, including crisis support available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and they serve anyone who needs care, regardless of ability to pay,” he said during an event in the East Room of the White House. “There are now more than 500 of these clinics in 46 states. We’ve added more than 140 during my administration, and we’re going to keep increasing them because we need more than 500.”
It was the latest sign of bipartisan support for this model of care, which was developed by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and received critical support from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), former Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.).
As a result, CCBHCs have grown from an under-utilized option for the delivery of care into a national movement capable of dramatically improving access to care. The first CCBHC opened in 2017, and today there are more than 500 clinics.
The president’s support isn’t new. Last year he signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which will provide resources for clinics to become a CCBHC through federal programs over many years. When he released his latest budget proposal earlier this year, he proposed making CCBHCs a permanent part of Medicaid. In fact, the past three administrations have invested in CCBHC because they lower barriers to access, improve our nation’s crisis care infrastructure, boost health care equity by extending access to underserved populations and create jobs.
Here’s what that looks like.
In Syracuse, N.Y., Helio Health is getting clients back on their feet by offering instant access to comprehensive care. That includes crisis counseling, access to medication and access to intensive case management services, among other things. In return, Helio Health has seen improvements in psychotropic medication use, long-acting injectable use, reduced emergency room use and reduced use of other crisis services among its clients.
And no one is turned away. Helio Health’s data illustrates how they have broken down barriers to access. Before it became a CCBHC, Helio Health’s outpatient clinic in Syracuse served 3,802 clients. In 2021, in its fifth year as a CCBHC, Helio Health’s CCBHC served 8,054 clients — an increase of 112 percent.
In Oklahoma, GRAND Mental Health is providing unparalleled crisis care and has distributed more than 8,000 tablets to clients and law enforcement, giving people throughout the communities it serves instant access to crisis services, reducing police interventions and reducing incarcerations. Providing widespread access to therapists and crisis counselors through the tablets has reduced inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations by 93 percent.
CCBHCs also help communities address the challenges of the overdose crisis, providing access to certain forms of substance use disorder treatment at vastly higher rates than non-CCBHCs, with 82 percent of CCBHCs offering one or more forms of medication assisted treatment, compared to only 56 percent of substance use clinics nationwide.
The Crisis & Suicide Lifeline that just observed its one-year anniversary relies in part on CCBHCs. The clinics are becoming an important source of support to the Lifeline because of the potential they hold to support crisis care, connect people to care post-crisis and engage people in outpatient treatment to manage their health and avoid a future crisis.
CCBHCs are subject to federal and state requirements that hold them accountable for expanding services and staffing to reach everyone in need of care. That’s why they also create jobs. As a result of becoming a CCBHC, clinics created an estimated 11,000 new behavioral health jobs, according to a 2022 report.
Our mental health and substance use challenges won’t simply go away. But CCBHCs can help people with a mental health or substance use challenge because they open avenues to comprehensive mental health and substance use treatment and care. They provide care that is coordinated and integrated with primary care.
Everyone deserves the right to be healthy. Continued investment in CCBHCs will help accomplish that goal by improving access to care and making mental wellbeing, including recovery from substance use challenges, a reality for everyone.
Chuck Ingoglia President and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
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