MANATEE -- Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced Thursday he has co-sponsored a new bill called "The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act" (House Resolution 3717) to "reform the nation's broken mental health system" by increasing treatment options and federal funding.
Buchanan called the bill he co-sponsored with Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania "the most significant overall of mental health care in America since President John F. Kennedy held office more than 50 years ago."
Buchanan said the proposed legislation is the product of a yearlong congressional investigation into how the government spends $125 billion annually on mental health programs.
"This legislation takes important steps toward fixing disjointed federal policy," Buchanan said.
The proposed legislation would provide alternatives to institutionalization, fix the inpatient bed shortage and reach rural populations, Buchanan said.
"This reform bill is not expected to carry any cost because it simply reorganizes the dollars the federal government spends on mental health services," Buchanan added.
Mary Ruiz, chief executive officer for Manatee Glens, Manatee County's mental health provider, said she was mostly enthusiastic about the new bill.
"It's a very ambitious bill with lots of good issues in
it," Ruiz said Thursday. "It addresses issues for families and it promotes things in the mental health field we have been fighting for. I am very proud that Rep. Buchanan is one of the sponsors. We do have some concerns how far it goes in certain areas but we think that those issues can be addressed."
Ruiz said she was referring to "court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment," which could pit patients against families regarding medicine regimens.
Anna Maria Island's Len Tabicman , a licensed mental health counselor and certified school psychologist for 40 years, believes sweeping reform is long overdue in the mental health field.
"We are probably 30 years behind in what should be done," said Tabicman, president of the Board of Directors of Hope Family Services, which helps victims of domestic violence. "When we de-institutionalized in this country, we let loose a group of people not equipped to live with other people. There was a ruckus about putting people away. It was said, 'How can we treat people like this?' As a result, we closed down all the institutions and threw the patients in the streets. Perhaps a middle ground between closing them all and leaving them all open should have been found, but wasn't."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.