Sparks Fly At Murphy Hearing: Cheap Shots, Personal Attacks and Traps Alleged

Colorado Democratic Representative Diane DeGette said she was “appalled” by the brutal questioning of SAMHSA Director Pamela Hyde during a House subcommittee hearing Wednesday. DeGette’s irritation was aimed at two House Republicans who verbally attacked Hyde and her agency, one personally belittling her as a witness.

Representatives Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and Chris Collins (R-NY) irked DeGette, the ranking minority member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, when they grilled Hyde about agency priorities and her leadership.

Mullin led the two-punch attack during the hearing that was called by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) the committee chair, who last year asked the General Accountability Office to investigate SAMSHA. It issued its report last week.

You can watch Mullin interrogate Hyde by going to 1:36.37 on the YouTube video.

After posting a snapshot of a SAMHSA website called Building Blocks For A Healthy Future on a television monitor, Mullin explained the webpage was designed to teach small children about substance abuse by having them sing songs about healthy living to the tune of Old McDonald and Yankee Doodle Dandy. “It’s for substance abuse for young children between the ages three to six and… I’m sure there’s a high number of substance abuse among three year-olds,” Mullin said sarcastically.

When Hyde began to defending the website, stating that studies showed the earlier prevention is taught, the better the outcome, Mullin cut her off and demanded to know how much the website had cost taxpayers. Hyde didn’t know, so he told her: $436,000.

“I got a three year old and I couldn’t keep her attention for no time at all on that,” he complained.

He said the website only had 15,000 visitors with an average viewing time of three minutes.

“Do you think that’s using tax money wisely?”

When Hyde began to talk about how SAMHSA was going through its website  looking for waste, he again cut her short. She buckled, saying that he was not letting her answer at which point, Mullin explained that $436,000 in Oklahoma would provide 176 outpatient service visits for a full year.

“We are here to help,” Mullin declared. But instead of admitting that SAMHSA has a problem, he said Hyde was getting “defensive.”

After being chastised by Mullin, Hyde came under the crosshairs of Collins who began by asking her to rate her and SAMHSA’s performance on a scale of one-to-ten with ten being the best.

When she replied that her agency was a 10, he rebuffed her for being “arrogant” and proceeded to belittle her with a string of questions, adding after each one that she was acting more like an 8 or 7 or even lower on the scale. (See 1:47:53.)

His relentless questioning drew Rep. DeGette’s ire at one point. She demanded that Collins let Hyde answer.

Both Mullin and Collins had exited the hearing room when DeGette criticized them by name for making “cheap shots,” personal attacks on witnesses, and “traps.” (2:02:37)

One of the most compelling statements during the hearing came from Republican Morgan Griffith, a self-described street lawyer from Virginia, who talked about clients with mental illnesses whom he had represented. He became emotional when he spoke about how his wife was trying to help a young suicidal man without any support or help from the federal programs that SAMHSA oversees. (His comments can be found at 1:13:18.)

Chairman Murphy and his subcommittee have held a series of investigative hearings into mental health, and Hyde and SAMHSA have been a regular target. In legislation that Murphy introduced last year (before it died in committee), he called for much of SAMHSA’s funding to be stripped away and given to the National Institute of Mental Health. Hyde testified that the lion’s share of her budget goes to substance abuse and not mental health. (Read more about Murphy’s bill here.)

At Wednesday’s hearing, Murphy zeroed in, once again, on the case of Joe Bruce and how a Protection and Advocacy employee told Bruce’s son, Will, ways to successfully be discharged from a Maine mental hospital even though doctors said he was dangerous. Will went home and murdered his mother. Murphy has asked Hyde to provide him with information from SAMHSA about the role of federal Protection and Advocacy groups in that tragedy.

Murphy also raised questions about the practice of having SAMHSA funded programs evaluated by individuals who are paid to run them.

Before the hearing, Rep. Murphy released a statement about the GAO study entitled: Mental Health: HHS Leadership Needed to Coordinate Federal Efforts Related to Serious Mental Illness.”

GAO stated, “Although SAMHSA  is charged with promoting coordination across the federal government regarding mental illness, its efforts to lead coordination – specifically on serious mental illness – across agencies have been lacking.”

“This GAO report is a much-needed wake-up call. The federal government’s approach to addressing mental illness is a convoluted and disjointed mess,” said Murphy, who is also a clinical psychologist treating soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury as a member of the Navy Reserve Medical Service Corps. “Shame on us if we don’t take action and work on fixing the system-wide failures identified in this report so that we can focus resources on helping those in desperate need of medical services for treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and chronic depression.”

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.