Mental Health America Indiana Blog

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Short session, long strides

This year was filled with drama, but the outcomes were many-especially in the area of Mental Health and Addiction. Once the Session really got started, it was an exhausting race to the finish and Mental Health and Addiction policy came out victorious! It is not an exaggeration to say that we successfully passed legislation that we--and our mental health and addiction partners--have advocated for over a decade. This was truly an amazingly successful Session for MHAI!

Forensic Treatment
Possibly the most significant legislative victory was in the area of Forensic Treatment for use in diversion and reentry as opposed to incarceration, a long standing MHAI priority. This became an integral part of a complicated web of bills that connected to move Indiana forward toward treatment. Driven by the push for sentencing reform in HEA 1006, the legislature passed SEA 235 and HEA 1268. These bills amend current law to require the use of evidence-based services, programs, and practices to reduce the risk for recidivism. The bills also, for the first time, require the consultation and coordination in planning for forensic treatment services between DOC, DMHA, and the Judicial Conference. The bills define evidence-based services in such a way as to reflect national best practices and they create a Forensic Treatment Account within DMHA. Further, they allow individuals to maintain their TANF and SNAP benefits when participating in these programs. Amazingly, HEA 1006 caps certain felons who would otherwise go to DOC and requires that the savings to DOC be used for these treatment programs, up to $11M. SEA 235 also calls for a pilot project in Marion County utilizing evidence-based practices. Appreciation for making such a significant change in Indiana law and policy goes to too many individuals to mention, but we must recognize the hard work the of legislative leadership who made this happen: Senator Mike Young, Representative Greg Steuerwald, Senator Greg Taylor, and Representative Matt Pierce.

Workforce Development
The Mental Health and Addiction field of professionals is aging while the need for mental health and addiction services grows. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act covers mental health and addiction as an essential benefit with parity, as it should, but that places even more pressure on access to the field. HEA 1360 creates a Mental Health and Addiction Services Development Programs Board to develop a loan forgiveness and training program for mental health and addiction professionals who remain in Indiana. This bill came from the Mental Health and Addiction Commission and the Attorney General's Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse. Many thanks goes to legislative sponsors Representative Charlie Brown and Senator Pat Miller as well as Attorney General Greg Zeoller for passage of HEA 1360, a MHAI priority.

Psychiatric Crisis Intervention
Media reports reflect almost daily the need for psychiatric crisis intervention services, yet Indiana does not have a comprehensive service system that bridges public and private providers as well as our silos of service systems. All too often, it is unclear where an individual in crisis should be taken for assistance, who provides the service, and what services should be made available. Further, there is a lack of coordination and integration of ongoing services once the individual is out of crisis. There are other states that are ahead of Indiana is this regard and SEA 248 would require FSSA to assess what is currently available in Indiana, what is needed, and make recommendations as to how to create a coordinated and integrated system. This bill is a MHAI priority as it begins to address a tremendous need in Indiana. Many thanks go out to its author Senator Mike Crider andHouse sponsor Ed Clere.

Social Host
It has always been illegal to provide alcohol to minors, and now thanks to a bill passed by the General Assembly, it is also illegal to provide a place for them to drink it. SB 28, authored by Senator Pete Miller, which passed the senate, was amended into SEA 236, which was a recodification of the alcohol code. We would like to thank Senators Peter Miller, Mike Young, and Lonnie Randolph as well as Representatives Greg Steuerwald, Matt Pierce and Jud McMillin, for their work on the bill. This law, which goes into effect on July 1, will make it a Class B misdemeanor to provide a place for minors to drink (including hotels). Social host laws are an effective tool for law enforcement and it will send a strong message to the community that facilitating or condoning underage drinking is illegal and not acceptable.

Opioid Treatment
Another MHAI priority coming from both the Mental Health Commission and the Attorney General's Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse is HEA 1218. Among other things, this bill would require DMHA to establish additional standards and protocols for opioid treatment programs and that the programs follow the protocols. Additionally, recommendations will be made regarding the use of the most appropriate medications for treatment. Thanks here go to Representative Steve Davisson and Senator Pat Miller.

Marriage Amendment
Opposition to HJR 3 was also a MHAI priority due to the impact such could have on the mental well being of those affected. As has been well documented in the press, the Resolution was amended to delete the "second sentence". Many observers are of the view that this settles the issue from a legislative standpoint.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
NAS is another priority of the Attorney General's Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force. SEA 408 will require data collection and reporting for the purpose of creating effective models for NAS. This issue and its remedy are expected to loom large in the next session. Many thanks to Senator Vaneta Becker for her strong leadership.

Telehealth
HEA 1258 requires the establishment of a pilot program to provide telehealth services to patients in Indiana and report the outcomes to the Indiana General Assembly. Of course this bill is just the beginning in Telehealth. Thanks go to Representative Robin Shackleford for her leadership moving the issue forward.

Study Commissions
Interestingly, one of the major issues that was somewhat unexpected was brought by leadership regarding study commissions. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of Study Commissions meeting during the summer to deal with complicated issues that cannot be resolved during the legislative session. Of course, the Mental Health and Addiction Commission has served this purpose well and was originally the legislative creation of MHAI. Still, these commissions have put great stress on legislative staff resources and SEA 80 was introduced to address that. The bill essentially eliminates the "specialty" commissions and creates summer committees that reflect the Session standing committees. At the request of MHAI, this bill was amended such that the name of the summer health committee was renamed "Health, Behavioral Health, and Human Services. In addition, we were able to amend the bill to permit the chair to create subcommittees if needed, such that a Behavioral Health subcommittee would be an option. Many thanks to the Speaker's office for working with MHAI to preserve a legislative focus on mental health and addiction.

Final Thoughts
Clearly, the 2014 Legislative Session will be considered hugely successful for Mental Health America of Indiana and its partner organizations. This is a credit to the Board, staff, affiliates and members who work so diligently every day to position the organization in such a way that we can respond to whatever opportunity that may arise. MHAI is truly an organization of professionals and volunteers who have shown that by combining our commitment and resources we can truly make a difference for those most deserving. Thank you for your continued support of MHAI!
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