U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy says more mental health care needed

By:  Deborah Straszheim
The Day

Groton — School-based health centers might do a good job helping the children who walk in needing mental health services, but that’s not a “system" of care and Connecticut needs one, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said Thursday.

Murphy toured the student health center at Robert E. Fitch High School in Groton after meeting with a small group of legislators and regional health providers and advocates to discuss his proposed Mental Health Reform Act.

While Murphy praised the work of the school-based center and others like it, Connecticut's mix of care encompasses school-based health centers, acute-care hospitals, community-run clinics, private clinics and public ones.

There's no system to ensure everyone gets care and a lead person is held responsible for it, he said.
“We’re doing worse, not better,” Murphy told the small group at the event hosted by Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, Inc., a nonprofit health care provider.

Nationwide, 15 million children and adolescents have been identified as suffering from a serious mental illness, while fewer than 8,000 psychiatrists are licensed to treat them.

“Shame on us at the federal level if we aren’t trying to contribute to the solution,” Murphy said.
The Mental Health Reform Act, introduced jointly by Murphy, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, passed the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last week.

The Senate is expected to consider the bill in early April.

The measure would allow Medicaid to be used for in-patient mental health treatment and allow providers to bill for medical care and mental health care on the same day.

Connecticut is among the states that prohibit same-day billing. The bill also seeks to increase the number of in-patient psychiatric beds.

The health committee doesn’t have jurisdiction over appropriations, so funding provisions had to be removed from the bill and will be debated later, Murphy said.

It will be a fight, but he said the bill has gained bipartisan support, and now has 16 co-sponsors — eight from each party. He expects amendments that address the need for more opioid and substance abuse treatment, Murphy said.

Child and Family Agency runs five school-based health centers in the 10 Groton Public Schools, a school-based health center in each of the New London Public Schools, one at the Regional Multicultural Magnet School and four in Norwich Public Schools, said Erin Janicek, director of clinical services for school-based health centers for the agency.

Most children needing mental health service are suffering from trauma, including witnessing domestic and community violence, she said.

Even if the violence doesn’t happen to the child, it can leave the child “feeling that your neighborhood’s not safe,” she said.

Sasha DiScuillo, a licensed clinical social worker at Fitch, has a caseload of about 20 and runs three group sessions.

Groton Superintendent Michael Graner told Murphy he’d just received a request for 20 more paraprofessionals to handle preschoolers who staff believe are not ready for kindergarten.

“Children in some cases are violent, they act out,” Graner said. “They in some cases are hurting our staff members.” Graner said other superintendents say they're dealing with the same thing.