Murphy’s Supporters Declare Victory, Kennedy Calls For Nonpartisanship, Alarming Newspaper Series and the Beach Boys

Brain Wilson, Paul Dano, Al Jardine

Brain Wilson, Paul Dano, Al Jardine

It’s been quite a week.

Rep. Tim Murphy’s backers claimed victory in first markup round,  Patrick Kennedy called on Republicans and Democrats to stop partisan squabbling, and the Tampa Bay Times & Herald Tribune published an alarming investigative series about Florida’s unsafe state mental hospitals.

Oh yeah, legendary Beach Boy Brian Wilson also was in town.  Here’s a recap.

TAC Declares Victory

*”A Major Victory for Mental Health Reform,” The Treatment Advocacy Center declared after Wednesday’s exhaustive markup session for Rep. Tim Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR2646). “After nearly 12 hours in markup, the bill was moved to the Energy and Commerce Committee with a bipartisan vote of 18 ayes and 12 nays. All provisions to help the most severely mentally ill remain.” 

You might recall that the Treatment Advocacy Center, which was created by mental health lightening rod Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, has played an ongoing and powerful role in the drafting of Murphy’s bill.

In its press release, TAC’s Executive Director John Snook said key provisions for the most severely ill will remain in the bill as it advances including:

  • Creates an Assistant Secretary of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders to coordinate efforts and elevate the importance of mental health and severe mental illness in the federal government; 
  • Awards funding to states and local jurisdictions to implement lifesaving, evidence-based treatment programs, called “assisted outpatient treatment” (AOT) laws for people who are too sick to maintain treatment themselves;
  • Reforms the IMD exclusion to increase the availability of psychiatric inpatient beds; and
  • Clarifies HIPAA to ensure mental health professionals are legally permitted to share critical diagnostic criteria and treatment information with parents or caregivers of patients with serious mental illness. 

Patrick Kennedy’s Statement

*After Wednesday’s hearing, Mental Health Advocate Patrick Kennedy issued a statement declaring:

I’m tired of hearing a debate about which party is more bipartisan. The mother whose son needs treatment does not care which member of Congress has his or her name on a reform bill. She just wants access to affordable, comprehensive services and supports for her child.

In his statement, the former Rhode Island Representative walked a thin line, complimenting his former Democratic colleagues and also Republican Murphy.

This markup was needed. We had to get all the ideas out on the table. I thank my former Democratic colleagues for bringing important language that is critical to fortify parity, expand community based services, combat the opioid crisis, and build a strong SAMHSA. And I thank Mr. Murphy for introducing a bill that addresses important issues of access, including finally addressing the IMD exclusion, furthering integration, and accelerating early intervention programs. We now must move forward the best ideas from both parties.

But Kennedy then chastised Republicans for rejecting Democratic amendments that he said would have “strengthened parity implementation and enforcement” saying that he was “disgusted.”

The Parity Law, which many of the Republicans and Democrats on the committee voted for, is the key to ensuring Americans have access to a full range of treatment and services- from primary to tertiary care. Without parity, many of the goals of reform cannot be realized because you can’t have mental health care if it isn’t paid for.

Kennedy, whose primary focus is on parity, stated that he was not a Democrat or a Republican when it came to mental health reform. “I belong to the party of mental health reform. And we are accepting new members.”

Unfortunately, the markup hearing showed that subcommittee members remained deeply divided about Murphy’s bill along party lines. The Democrats are fearful it strips away civil right protections and cuts services, the Republicans insist otherwise. The only thing that both sides agreed on Wednesday was that mental health should be a nonpartisan issue — while they clearly made it a partisan one.

Tampa Bay Expose

*In what should be a Pulitzer Prize contender, investigative reporters for the Tampa Bay Times and Herald Tribune published a series that examined Florida’s underfunded state mental hospitals revealing horror after horror.

Insane. Invisible. In danger. Florida cut $100 million from its mental hospitals. Chaos quickly followed.

FLORIDA’S STATE-FUNDED MENTAL HOSPITALS are supposed to be safe places to care for people who are a danger to themselves or others. But years of neglect and deep budget cuts transformed them into treacherous warehouses where violent patients roam the halls with no supervision and workers are left on their own to oversee dozens of people. Now, no one is safe inside.  (read the series here.)

It’s appropriate that this troubling series was published the same week House members were squabbling about Murphy’s bill. Unfortunately, until our local, state, and national leaders make funding a priority and look at our overall system rather than breaking it into bits and pieces and trying to save money by simply plugging holes, our loved ones will continue to suffer.

Brian Wilson Rocks For Give An Hour

*The same night Republicans and Democrats were arguing about Murphy’s bill, my wife, Patti, and I slipped away to an evening of “music and celebration” with Brian Wilson, co-founder of the Beach Boys, along with fellow singer Al Jardine, and cast members from the biopic about Wilson called Love & Mercy.  A favorite actor of mine, John Cusack, and fellow actor, Paul Dano, took the stage to sing with Wilson.

We were guests of Dan and Karen Amato at the performance in the Hyatt Regency at Tyson’s Corner Center that was organized by Give an Hour, a nonprofit created in 2005 to support our veterans. Dan’s brother died during the Vietnam conflict so he feels passionately about supporting our nation’s soldiers and their families.

Give an Hour asks mental health professionals to give an hour of service each week, free of charge, to active duty, reserve and guard veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. More than 7,000 professionals have done just that. Another sponsor was Changedirection, which calls for Americans to care for their mental well-being just as they do their physical well-being.

Wilson suffers from auditory hallucinations and has been formally diagnosed as mildly manic-depressive with schizoaffective disorder that presents itself in the form of disembodied voices. His personal story is another example of how persons with mental illnesses can recover and how much they enrich our lives when they do.


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.