Aug 9, 2022

Passage of a comprehensive and thoughtful mental health omnibus bill will provide people with a range of critical behavioral health supports, services, and protections.

After months of careful crafting and review by the Massachusetts Legislature, on August 10, 2022, Governor Charlie Baker signed S.3097, An Act addressing barriers to care for mental health, into law.

This Mental Health Omnibus Bill was spurred by the deep commitment of Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Ron Mariano, and the Baker-Polito Administration to expand access to quality, affordable behavioral health care for the people of the Commonwealth. The Chairs of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee, Senator Julian Cyr and Representative Adrian Madaro, listened to multiple constituencies on a wide array of issues, drafting detailed and responsive Senate and House versions.

The final version of the bill weaves together the smartest features of the House and Senate versions and represents true consensus. It tackles some of the most vexing barriers to behavioral health care in detailed and innovative ways. We appreciate the work of the conference committee members: Senator Julian Cyr, Representative Adrian Madaro, Senator Cindy Friedman, Representative Denise Garlick, Senator Bruce Tarr, and Representative Hannah Kane who finalized this legislation during an exceptionally busy end to the legislative session.

The Mental Health Omnibus Bill will improve access to behavioral health care for every individual and family in the Commonwealth. It is as expansive as it is targeted.

It deals with longstanding problems in the state.

  • There is a longstanding problem of youth boarding in emergency departments (ED) for days and even weeks while waiting for an inpatient placement, resulting in delayed and inconsistent treatment. To this end, the bill creates a youth ED boarding data portal and requires the presence of mental health professional in EDs.
  • Loopholes in state and federal parity laws often result in a lack of health insurance coverage for behavioral health care and services. The bill provides insurance coverage for fundamental services, including annual mental health wellness examinations (much like annual physical examinations), community based acute treatment for youth, collaborative care models, and behavioral health emergency services.
  • Individuals held in Massachusetts jails and prisons who are at risk of self-injury are typically placed on mental health watch status (now called therapeutic supervision) where they are confined alone in a cell without belongings and often without effective interventions. The bill provides a method to petition for transfer to a therapeutic treatment unit outside the carceral facility.

The bill also supports a progressive vision of how to address behavioral health issues.

  • The bill provides guidance to aid the rollout of the national 988 crisis hotline and coordinate the services with existing call-in numbers, like 911 and 211.
  • To keep youth in schools, the bill promotes school-based behavioral health services, by creating a statewide program to implement behavioral health services and supports in school districts and by limiting the potential for preschool suspension and expulsion.
  • The bill establishes an Office of Behavioral Health Promotion to address the precursors to mental health problems “upstream,” such as by looking at social determinants of health.

The mental health omnibus represents the collaborative efforts of many people including individuals with mental health experiences and their families, service providers, advocates, and political leaders. The bill’s strength comes from the diversity of issues it seeks to address and the incorporation of the ideas of people working on these issues year after year. The changes this bill will bring will be felt, by people of all ages, for years to come.

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