Congressman Murphy proposes law to provide better mental-health care

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U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, this morning announced legislation intended to provide better mental-health care by revamping the federal government's "chaotic patchwork of antiquated programs and ineffective policies."

The bill is designed to increase access to care, improve research, reduce the stigma of mental illness and integrate physical- and mental-health care.

"Sadly, patients end up in the criminal-justice system or on the streets because services are not available," Mr. Murphy, who has a doctorate in psychology, said in a statement.

Families, he said, "struggle to find care for loved ones."

Mr. Murphy is calling the bill the "Helping Families in Crisis Mental Health Act." Among other provisions, It would award $15 million annually for four years to cites, counties and courts to establish court-ordered treatment programs for residents who meet certain criteria, such as run-ins with the law. He said such programs could be an alternative to inpatient treatment.

It also would award $3 million annually for three years to states that set up pilot programs that use tele-psychiatry and provide additional mental-health training to primary-care physicians. Tele-psychiatry would use computers to link mental health professionals with patients in rural communities.

And it would modify privacy laws to make it easier for parents to get medical information about children with mental illness.

It would establish an assistant secretary position in the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee the new initiatives, coordinate mental-health efforts across federal agencies and promote research.

Finally, it would improve and expand programs at community mental health centers, which serve disadvantaged residents with mental illness.

Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548.

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