Cortez Masto discusses improving mental health care

Nevada U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto met with local mental health advocates working on the frontlines to learn how to widen the gateway between funding and crisis care services Feb. 15 in Reno.

Cortez Masto held a roundtable to ask what else she could do to secure federal dollars to better integrate mental and behavioral health needs for Nevadans who need immediate help. The Democrat said it was her goal to find legislative solutions for families and children and expand providers and services for Medicare and Medicaid through mobile crisis response teams.

“For me, as somebody who grew up in this community, how do we ensure that we have the services that we need based on what we know our families and children are dealing with?” Cortez Masto said.

Among the panelists at the roundtable were Dr. Antonina Capurro, medical epidemiologist for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Child and Family Services. Capurro said the DCFS oversees a mobile crisis response team that provides lifesaving support services.

“We help families of youth under 18, and we have a dynamic program,” Capurro said. “Our goal is to keep people united with family and help people with a really supportive environment for that recovery. We have an 83% rate of reduction in emergency room visits.”

When the response team successfully manages to keep youth out of the emergency room, she said, the team’s next step is to identify community resources and link families with long-term services.

“And that’s where we struggle as a team,” Capurro said.

There are also new models, such as intensive crisis stabilization services or strategies offering telehealth to rural areas, but how to implement them is another question. Cortez Masto said another challenge is the calls from families dealing with the fallout from the pandemic, including depression and anxiety.

In February 2021, Cortez Masto joined U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and six other members to introduce the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) Act, a bill that provides enhanced Medicaid funding for three years to those with mental health or a substance use disorder. The bill gave states assistance to adopt a mobile crisis response team that could be called instead of law enforcement, and it provided $25 million for grants or evaluations.

Cortez Masto also helped put into practice the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and advocated for $1 billion in support for school mental health services in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.

She said it’s still not enough.

“You’re where my legislation starts,” she told the speakers. “What else do I need to be doing? I can fight for federal dollars and I can fight to pass it, but if we don’t have legislation, we’re going to lose it to some other state. But where else do we need to go?”

Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which educates the public and advocates for research funding, are among top resources, speakers said. Kathryn “Katie” Rosachi, clinical program manager II, who oversees the Wraparound in Nevada program for the DHHS Division of Child and Family Services, said it’s important to individualize services for each person’s need, which is why mobile response is critical.

“What we know about children’s mental health is it’s not isolated to one family member,” she said. “And we’re learning their values, cultures and things that are unique to them.”

Cortez Masto asked about gaps or challenges in the system for workers trying to expand mobile crisis response services. Cherylyn Rahr-Wood, regional behavioral health coordinator for NAMI Western Nevada, said for many families, transportation is a major barrier to accessing the help they need as they try to make appointments, especially for families in the rural counties where there are fewer services.

“We know we’re not going to have providers in their neck of the woods,” Rahr-Wood said. “There are many that are doing the work, but getting to those calls sometimes is two hours away for them, so how do we get those teams out for them locally. We’re not going to have enough (licensed clinical social workers) rurally. The internships are lovely and we’re building that workforce pipeline. There are some things we’re looking at. We truly run the gamut of all ages.”

Cortez Masto said after the roundtable it’s also important to acknowledge struggles in reaching multicultural populations, such as the Latino communities who might not speak English and need a doctor.

“Nevada is beautifully diverse,” she said. “We have the fastest growing (Asian-American/Pacific Islander) communities, and we need to be talking to these communities and reaching them where they are.”

Rahr-Wood cited a need to build interest for anyone wanting to pursue counseling, psychology or related fields. She referred to NAMI’s Nevada Teen Peer Support Text Line, to which ages 24 and younger can text 775-296-8336 if they’re experiencing mental illness or other life issues.

“It just takes funding,” she said. “We got a huge grant from Helmsley (Charitable Trust). That’s how the teen text line was built.”

Cortez Masto said collaboration is key in helping communities serve families with mental health. She said the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act dollars helped to hire school counselors and served as a bridge between school and outside services, reinforcing community awareness.

“Education is always the first step in prevention and connecting people with services, and we have to continually do that,” she said.

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