Senate panel examines mental/behavioral health lessons from COVID-19 response

Hospital News

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee yesterday held a hearing on using COVID-19 response lessons to address the mental health and substance use disorder crises. 

Testifying at the hearing were representatives from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Salud Family Health Centers in Colorado, the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, and Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in Dallas.     

Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said stress from COVID-19 has severely damaged the nation’s mental health, citing survey findings that half of adults say the pandemic has affected their mental well-being. Among other indicators, she cited a nationwide increase in drug overdose deaths and a 30% increase in youth suicide rates in King County, Wash. 

Ranking member Richard Burr, R-N.C., linked COVID-19-related isolation with the rising prevalence of mental health conditions. Committee members and hearing witnesses agreed that the pandemic has exacerbated gaps in access to mental health and SUD treatment. Witnesses called for a multifaceted approach to include: expanding coverage of audio-only and video telehealth services; funding start-up costs for modernizing electronic health records; expanding the roles of community health workers and social workers; training health professionals to provide trauma-informed care; and eliminating barriers to medication-assisted treatment.

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