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Excellence Act will expand mental health and substance use treatment access to millions

We are dealing with multiple mental health and substance use crises in this country. Rates of reported mental health conditions are rising, as are overdoses and overdose deaths. When combined with a shrinking mental health workforce and access to care challenges caused by the pandemic, it is urgent that we take immediate steps to expand care for those who need it most.

Right now, Congress has a chance to take bold action by passing the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act of 2021, legislation to expand the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) model. CCBHCs provide an opportunity for a transformational change in how people access mental health care and substance use treatment.

When you think of core community services, you likely think of the fire department, a hospital, maybe the local library or a grocery store. Each of those has a clearly defined purpose — you know what you get when you use them. But if you or someone you love needed mental health or substance use treatment services right away, do you know where to go, and what to expect?

CCBHCs fill that gap. The CCBHC program, which began in 2017, has funded 340 clinics across 40 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Guam. Data released in May found that CCBHCs are serving an estimated 1.5 million people nationwide.

CCBHCs are specially designated clinics that provide expanded mental health and substance use services. From the perspective of clients, CCBHCs provide life-saving assistance and eliminate barriers to access. CCBHCs remove any uncertainty about where to seek treatment. They offer a place to go that is an alternative to an expensive emergency department, with 24/7 access to comprehensive services for anyone who walks in the door or, they can dispatch mobile units to respond to a crisis. And they provide ongoing care that is integrated with primary care and coordinated with other social service providers.

From the perspective of organizations that provide mental health and substance use treatment services, the model is doing wonders — becoming a CCBHC allows organizations to serve more people, reduce wait times and hire more staff to deal with surging demand. Clinics are also able to expand their substance use treatment services — particularly medication-assisted treatment — and improve collaboration with criminal justice agencies and hospitals to reduce burdens on police and emergency departments. Nearly all (95 percent) CCBHCs are helping set a new standard for law enforcement and mental health organization collaboration through trainings, partnerships, co-responding and diversions.

These are remarkable services, and with COVID-19’s impact on our mental wellbeing expected to last for years to come, we need to invest in services that work.

But hundreds of CCBHCs risk losing their funding as soon as next year. If legislation is not passed to create a permanent, sustainable funding model, communities that have seen their mental health and substance use treatment systems transformed by CCBHCs over the last four years would suddenly lose access to comprehensive, integrated care when they need them most.

The Excellence Act, introduced by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), would ensure CCBHCs remain an integral part of the community. Their bill would provide funding for existing CCBHCs, plus give mental health and substance use treatment organizations in every state and territory the option of becoming a CCBHC — something every community deserves.

This is a chance to change the landscape and create a system that truly meets the mental health needs of every community. We encourage Congress to pass the Excellence Act so organizations in every state and territory across the United States have the chance to become a CCBHC. With mental health and substance use crises gripping so many communities, the wellbeing of our country depends on it.

Charles Ingoglia, MSW, is the president and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. Founded in 1969, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing is a membership organization that drives policy and social change on behalf of nearly 3,500 mental health and substance use treatment organizations and the more than 10 million children, adults and families they serve.

Tags Debbie Stabenow Mental health Roy Blunt

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