WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) introduced the Improving Mental Health Access from the Emergency Department Act, legislation to improve the way patients receive care for mental illness in emergency departments. The bipartisan bill would establish a competitive grant program for emergency departments to adopt more collaborative and connected mental health care models and deploy new technology to better connect patients with appropriate resources in their communities. Companion legislation, H.R. 1205, introduced by Representatives Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) passed the House of Representatives in May.
“Over the past year, the demands on our emergency departments have been unprecedented, which is why it is essential that we now take steps to ensure all patients—especially those with mental health care needs—promptly receive the care they deserve,” Senator Capito said. “This bill will allow emergency departments to customize innovative solutions that meet the unique needs of these patients.”
“We need to do more to improve mental health care in emergency rooms and ensure that patients can get the care they need, when they need it. This is a commonsense bill that would help give our hospitals and health care providers the tools and resources that they need to implement solutions that incorporate mental health care and take a 360-degree approach to patients’ needs,” Senator Hassan said. “I’m glad to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to push forward this bipartisan effort.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already growing demand for mental health care services due to rising rates of mental health conditions, substance abuse, and suicide. This increasing demand, as well as a shortage of psychiatric beds, is causing patients to remain in emergency departments for hours, sometimes days, as appropriate mental health care is sought. As emergency departments across the country face this reality, some are implementing innovative solutions to ensure patients with mental illness receive the care they need and deserve.
The Improving Mental Health Access from the Emergency Department Act would provide resources for emergency departments to adopt more collaborative and connected care models and deploy new technology to better connect patients with appropriate resources in their communities. The legislation recognizes that needs vary by patient, provider, and community and allows emergency departments to design the solutions that will best work for them.
Specifically, the legislation would:
Authorize a competitive grant program for emergency departments to implement innovative approaches to securing prompt access to appropriate follow-on care for individuals experiencing acute mental health episodes and presenting for care in emergency departments. Such innovative approaches could include:
• Expediting transition to post-emergency care through expanded coordination with regional service providers, assessment, peer navigators, bed availability tracking and management, transfer protocol development, networking infrastructure development, and transportation services.
• Increasing the supply of inpatient psychiatric beds and alternative care settings, such as regional emergency psychiatric units.
• Expanding approaches to providing psychiatric care in the emergency department—including tele-psychiatric support and other remote psychiatric consultations, peak period crisis clinics, or creating dedicated psychiatric emergency service units.