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Massachusetts State House Passes Comprehensive Mental & Behavioral Health Bill

The House passed comprehensive legislation addressing barriers with the Commonwealth’s behavioral health care delivery system.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022 – Last Thursday, Representatives Steven Ultrino, Paul Donato, and Kate Lipper-Garabedian voted to pass H.4879, An Act addressing barriers to care for mental health, after a similar version of the legislation passed in the State Senate. The bill addresses longstanding issues with our Commonwealth’s behavioral health care system and places a particular emphasis on acute psychiatric care and crisis response, youth behavioral health initiatives, community-based behavioral health services, investment in workforce retention and development, and enforcement of existing behavioral health parity laws. In the House bill, an amendment filed by Representative Ultrino was adopted into the final version of the legislation with the support of House leadership and the Malden delegation. Amendment 9, Requiring Intermediary Steps Before Exclusion, expands upon the bill’s limitation on the use of suspension and expulsion by requiring administrators to pursue alternatives before resorting to suspension or expulsion in K-12 public schools. The amendment will also outline models of alternative action for school administrators including positive behavioral interventions and trauma-informed approaches, which specifically takes into account students’ mental health and emotional wellbeing when responding to incidents resulting in disciplinary action. Disciplinary action has harsh consequences on students with prior histories of trauma or emotional and behavioral problems, often re-traumatizing students without addressing the root causes of in-school incidents. The adoption of this amendment will help foster supportive and positive school cultures, representing a critical step towards increasing supports for students’ emotional and mental wellbeing in schools. “It is exciting to see this legislation passed and I am especially thankful to Speaker Mariano and my colleagues for the support and guidance on my amendment, which will support the emotional and mental wellbeing of our public school students,” said Representative Steven Ultrino (D-Malden). “The bill addresses key challenges faced by too many across the Commonwealth for simply seeking access to behavioral health care. Many of us have experienced increased anxiety, depression, and other mental and behavioral health issues during the pandemic – this bill is not only timely, but it shows the House's commitment to prioritize behavioral health care and ensure everyone has access to quality mental health services in Massachusetts.” “I’m proud of the legislation that passed through the house, addressing the most pressing barriers to mental health in Medford, Malden and across all of Massachusetts,” said Representative Paul Donato (D-Medford). “The bill includes initiatives such as expanded insurance coverage, school-based behavioral services, workforce investment, and more at a time when it’s never been more critical. I’d also like to thank Chairman Adrian Madaro for his work to get this done.” "Having heard from many constituents, practitioners, and municipal leaders who have been working to support family and friends struggling with mental health challenges, I was proud to vote for this legislation to address barriers to care,” said Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian (D-Melrose). “The pandemic underscored the importance of access to mental and behavioral health services and resources, particularly among our youth, which this bill enhances.” Other highlights of the final bill include:

  • Addresses emergency department boarding of patients seeking mental health & substance use treatment, including the creation of an online portal and codifying expedited inpatient admissions for youth patients

  • Increase behavioral health care access by implementing the nationwide 988 hotline to access 24/7 suicide prevention and behavioral health crisis services

  • Initiating a public awareness campaign on Red Flag Laws and Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) which limits access to guns for people at risk of hurting themselves and others

  • Funds and creates a statewide program to help schools implement school-based behavioral health services

  • Requires the DCF to evaluate each child entering foster care for behavioral health concerns, referring them to the services they need

  • Invests in expanding and diversifying the behavioral health workforce by offering grants and a scholarship program

  • Requires pediatricians to perform Post-Partum Depression screenings of mothers of newborns at all visits occurring in the infants first year of life

H.4879 passed unanimously with a vote of 155-0. The legislation will now move back to the Senate for further consideration.

For more information please contact:

Claudia Chung, Legislative Aide

(617) 722-2070

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