The House Health and Human Services Standing Committee unanimously passed House Bill 248 on Wednesday. The bill now advances to the House floor for consideration.
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HB 248 would provide long-term home and community-based support for people with severe mental illness, requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to develop plans to deploy assertive community treatment (ACT) teams throughout the state.
“What this bill does is it creates a way that we can utilize our Medicaid funding to help people with severe mental disabilities,” said Rep. Marsha Judkins (R- Provo), the bill’s sponsor. “And it creates a grant program so that these [ACT teams] can be created in communities that can show that they can do this [with] fidelity.”
An ACT team is comprised of about 10 individuals, each with different disciplines including a therapist, peer support specialist, case manager, vocational specialist, and an APRN for medication management.
The bill is requesting $5 million in one-time general funding that would come from the state’s Medicaid Community Support waiver. This money would then provide counties with grants to establish ACT teams to serve their locales with long-term, ongoing support for individuals with severe mental illness.
Testifying before the committee on the ACT teams’ effectiveness, Sherri Wittwer, who serves on the board of Mental Health America of Utah, worked to create and implement the program in Salt Lake County.
“ACT is an evidence-based model,” Wittwer said. “It’s been around for a very long time, and it’s been greatly studied and has proven outcomes and cost savings associated with it. Assertive community treatment teams were developed to help people with serious mental illness, our highest-need individuals, to live their lives in the community and not in high-cost settings. It is our highest level of community-based care that’s available.”
According to Wittwer, there are many barriers for people with acute mental disorders including issues with basic transportation and appointment management. ACT teams would be available 24/7 as a “hospital without walls.”
In an interview with State of Reform last month, Judkins spoke about how the current system is built around crisis response, not long-term mental health support.
“We really are lacking in long-term behavioral supports and medication supports and the supports that peer counseling [and] things that people need for the rest of their lives pretty much if you have a severe mental illness.
It’s not going to go away in four months. So it is structurally different than what we have been doing. There’s a huge gap and I am just trying to fill that gap.”
All of the bills on the committee agenda passed with favorable recommendations during Wednesday’s hearing.
Bills related to Medicaid dental waivers (Senate Bill 19), services for people with disabilities (HB 242), reforms to social worker licensing to support ESL candidates (HB 250), amendments to child welfare reviews (HB 180), and the establishment of a kidney health task force (HB 142) will now advance to the House floor for consideration.