(4-24-17) Pennsylvania Republican Representative Tim Murphy said in a press released late today that he was “stunned” by President Trump’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.
Murphy, who was the driving force behind the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act that created the new mental health and drug czar position, criticized Dr. McCance-Katz in his release because she worked for two years at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) during the Obama administration as the agency’s chief medical officer.
The old regime at SAMHSA was incapable and unwilling to work with me and my colleagues in Congress to deliver the transformative changes needed at the agency and throughout the federal government to serve families in crisis. Therefore I am stunned the President put forth a nominee who served in a key post at SAMHSA under the previous Administration when the agency was actively opposing the transformative changes in H.R. 3717, the original version of my Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. In fact, the previous Administration and SAMHSA actively opposed the creation of an Assistant Secretary, as well as opposing my changes to HIPAA, expanding access to inpatient crisis psychiatric hospital beds, strengthening commitment standards and a host of other reforms.
“Dr. McCance-Katz served as Chief Medical Officer at the very time SAMHSA was under investigation for multiple failed practices and wasteful spending. She was the key medical leader when the agency actively lobbied against any change or accountability, including when the Energy & Commerce Committee, indeed the entire Congress, was aiming to fix our nation’s broken mental health system by passing the most transformational mental health reforms in a half century. And while she was serving at SAMHSA, there were questionable hiring practices, no accountability for federal grants, an anti-medical approach to serious mental illness and substance abuse treatment and most importantly, the continued upward rise of suicide and substance abuse deaths.
The White House announced Dr. McCance-Katz’s selection late Friday after seriously considering two other finalists for the job. They included Miami Dade Judge Steve Leifman, who Murphy reportedly strongly opposed because he was not a psychiatrist, and Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who reportedly was Murphy’s favored choice for the position but was passed over without explanation. Last week, the Wall Street Journal confirmed a blog that I posted last month that named Dr. Welner as Murphy’s first choice.
Rep. Murphy’s criticism of Dr. McCance-Katz ignored criticism that she levied against SAMHSA after she resigned. In a blistering essay published in the Psychiatric Times, Dr. McCance-Katz wrote that SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services, which administers federal mental health programs, ignored serious mental illnesses and evidenced based practices in favor of feel-good recovery programs that were politically popular but did little to help persons diagnosed with debilitating disorders. She claimed that SAMHSA was openly hostile toward the use of psychiatric medicine, didn’t focus on helping the seriously mentally ill, and questioned whether bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were even real, arguing that psychosis is just a “different way of thinking for someone experiencing stress.”
In his press release criticizing her, Rep. Murphy didn’t mention Dr. McCance-Katz’s complaints about the agency, even though his release echoed much the same criticism that she had made in her article. He wrote:
“We must end the era of silly, feel-good, anti-scientific, redundant and wasteful actions at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and across all federal programs. The anti-medical approach to mental illness and addiction over the past decade has too often made the care for those with serious mental illness considerably worse.
“Having not been scrutinized by Congress for more than a decade, SAMHSA lacked mission-focus, deviated from congressional intent and spent taxpayer dollars on programs that at best are of dubious quality and effectiveness, and at worst, prevented care from being delivered to the most vulnerable patient population.
Supporters of Dr. McCance-Katz said they were caught completely off-guard by the severity of Murphy’s criticism given that Dr. McCance-Katz shared many of his views.