House health committee advances bills to increase family health care services and improve youth mental health

Rep. Walter Blackman (R – Scottsdale) introduced House Bill 2111 on Monday during the first meeting of the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill would appropriate $10 million from the state general fund in fiscal year 2022-2023 to the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) for the Healthy Families Arizona (HFAz) program. This funding would double the amount the program is currently allocated.

 

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HFAz is a free and voluntary program serving pregnant women and families of newborns that aims to improve the social and economic outcomes for women and their children. The program’s goals are to enhance positive parent/child interaction, promote child health and development, prevent child abuse and neglect, and provide stability for at-risk families. 

The program provides services such as emotional support and encouragement for parents, linking families with community services, health care, child care, and housing, providing child development, nutrition, and safety education, and encouraging self-sufficiency through education and employment. 

Blackman said this bill was necessary to protect children from child abuse, sexual abuse, and trafficking, citing the fact that Child Protective Services substantiates a claim of sexual abuse in Arizona every 9 minutes, and that 82% of these victims are under 18 and female. He also said that due to the long-standing effects of child sexual abuse that often lead to mental health issues and substance use disorders as these children become adults, taxpayers in Arizona would be paying even more money in the future to help these folks if preventive measures are not taken.

Gauri Gladish, representing the Women’s Foundation for the State of Arizona, testified in favor of the bill, highlighting Arizona’s state ranking of 42nd out of 50 in child well-being.

“At the women’s foundation, we know when women and their families have the tools they need, they create a path of self-sufficiency. Based on our research, investing $10 million into the Healthy Families Arizona program can save the state and taxpayers up to $110 million every year.”

She added that 96.3% of families involved in HFAz have not reported child abuse or neglect for 3 consecutive years, and that over 20% of mothers who complete the program are employed full-time by the time they complete the program. 

Melissa Compian, representing DCS, also spoke in favor of the bill. She said while the program serves approximately 4,000 families annually, it has the capacity to expand to serve an additional 1,500 families with the additional funding. 

Several legislators, including Rep. Joseph Chaplik (R – Scottsdale) and Steve Kaiser (R – Phoenix), voiced concerns over the doubled appropriation amount. “Looking at the fiscal responsibility, I just find it hard to double a budget without any evidence of what that money is actually going to do, without any statistics that $10 million is going to give us the results that we want,” said Chaplik.

Blackman said the exact dollar amount could be negotiated in the House Appropriations Committee, but encouraged appropriating the full $10 million. The bill passed 7-2 and moved on to the House Appropriations Committee. 

Another key bill discussed at the committee meeting was HB 2098, introduced by Reps. Regina Cobb (R – Kingman) and Michelle Udall (R – Mesa). The bill would add psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners to the list of health professionals who may perform psychiatric assessments for minors and provide recommendations for outpatient or inpatient treatment services. 

The bill would also permit psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners to report to the juvenile court on the mental health assessment and treatment of youth in DCS custody for purposes of approving or denying in-patient care.

Compian also testified in favor of this bill.

“Throughout the behavioral health provider community, psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners often take the lead role in assessing the child’s mental health, and they’re adequately trained to perform such assessments and make such recommendations.”

Katherine Busby, representing the Arizona Nurses Association, also spoke in favor of the bill and said psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners were more than qualified to make these assessments for youth. 

The bill passed unanimously and moved onto the House Rules Committee.