(4-26-17) Republican Representative Tim Murphy from Pennsylvania today publicly denounced the White House’s decision to nominate Dr. Ellie McCance-Katz, to be the first Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use in the Department of Health and Human Services.
During an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, he said, “I hope that the President withdraws this nomination. I hope that if she advances forward the Senate does not confirm her.” He added: “She doesn’t deserve to be Assistant Secretary.”
Dr. McCance-Katz currently serves as the chief medical officer for the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals in Rhode Island. The White House announced her nomination last Friday, ending weeks of speculation about who might get the top mental health and substance abuse job that was created because of legislation that Rep. Murphy wrote and shepherded through Congress into law in December.
His appearance today came after his office issued a strongly worded press release on Monday criticizing Dr. McCance-Katz for not doing more during the two years that she worked at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) during the Obama administration as the agency’s chief medical officer.
The White House selected her from three candidates that included Miami Dade Judge Steve Leifman and Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist.
I strongly endorsed my good friend Judge Leifman for the job, but Rep. Murphy objected to him because he was not a psychiatrist (although that was not a requirement for the post) and reportedly because Rep. Murphy felt appointing someone from the criminal justice system to oversee the federal government’s largest mental health and substance abuse agency sent the public the wrong message.
In recent days, it has become clear that Rep. Murphy’s choice candidate is Dr. Welner, who I first met when both of us testified at the first hearing Rep. Murphy held after the 2012 Newtown shootings. The congressman has credited Dr. Welner with helping him draft what would become his Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act. At the hearing, Dr. Welner criticized HIPAA privacy laws that prevented families from obtaining information about a family member with mental illness.
The family is an essential informant of a mentally ill child’s condition, “but the HIPAA law says that you can’t talk,” said Michael Welner, MD, a forensic psychiatrist who’s the founder and chair of the Forensic Panel. The result is the family takes home a patient who is severely ill without having access to the patient’s doctor, and with no interim manual for mental health training, Dr. Welner said.
The congressman’s criticism of Dr. McCance-Katz was intended to thwart her nomination which must be approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. House members do not vote to confirm presidential appointees, only Senators do.