The Home-Based Tele-mental Health Care Act of 2023 targets mental health and substance use care in rural areas, granting access to virtual services. Designed by Representatives Salinas and Harshbarger, it allocates funds for home-based telemental health delivery, focusing on farming, fishing, and forestry populations. Supported by key associations, this bill aims to bridge the mental health gap in underserved regions, addressing the dire need for accessible care in rural America.
Introduced by Representatives Salinas and Harshbarger, the Home-Based Tele-mental Health Care Act of 2023 proposes grants to boost mental health and substance use services in remote areas, particularly aiding those in farming, fishing, and forestry jobs. This legislation responds to the challenges faced by rural communities in accessing mental healthcare. With endorsements from major associations, it endeavors to revolutionize mental health care accessibility in underserved regions.
The primary focus of this bill is to extend grants that facilitate the provision of mental health and substance use services through telehealth platforms. Particularly targeting residents in rural areas engaged in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations, the aim is to ensure accessibility to these crucial services within the comfort of their homes.
Traditional models of telemental health have typically involved care provided at clinical sites by specialists situated remotely. However, this new bill emphasizes the significance of enabling individuals to access mental health professionals directly from their homes through personal devices. This approach is anticipated to alleviate challenges faced in rural regions and among those employed in farming, fishing, and forestry (Triple-F) occupations.
The legislation outlines that the grants will be awarded by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in collaboration with the rural health liaison of the Department of Agriculture. Funding is earmarked for up to $10 million per fiscal year until 2027, aiming to bolster the delivery of these services.
Diana Harshbarger, a long-serving community pharmacist in a highly rural Congressional District, expressed her understanding of the obstacles patients confront in underserved areas. She highlighted how expanding access to telemental health services would significantly enhance patient outcomes.
Moreover, the bill requires grant recipients not only to provide home-based telemental health services to eligible populations but also to establish metrics to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of these services compared to traditional in-person care.
Endorsements from key associations like the National Rural Health Association, American Psychological Association, and American Psychiatric Association lend weight to the importance of this legislation. Leaders within these organizations have emphasized the necessity of such programs to address the specific behavioral health and substance use requirements of individuals engaged in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations.
This bill runs parallel to another introduced in the US Senate, indicating bipartisan recognition of the urgent need to expand mental health services in rural America.
Statistics underline the gravity of mental health issues in rural areas. Over one-fifth of rural Americans reported experiencing mental illness in 2022. Shockingly, the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 7.7 million adults in nonmetropolitan areas had a mental illness, with 1.9 million experiencing serious thoughts of suicide.
However, mental healthcare accessibility remains scarce in rural America. Around 65 percent of rural counties lack a psychiatrist, and 81 percent do not have a psychiatric nurse practitioner, as noted by Mental Health America.
The significance of telehealth in extending mental healthcare during the pandemic is evident. Trilliant Health’s data highlights a substantial increase in behavioral health visits conducted via telehealth—from a mere 1 percent before the pandemic to 32.8 percent by the second quarter of 2022.
Recent figures from Epic Research further underscore the continued utilization of telehealth in providing mental healthcare. Their analysis spanning from Q2 2019 to Q3 2023 indicates that telehealth visits, especially in mental health, reached a peak in Q2 2020, constituting 65.5 percent of all visits. Even by Q3 2023, 37 percent of mental health visits continued to occur virtually.
The Home-Based Tele-mental Health Care Act of 2023 holds promise for rural mental healthcare. Through grants facilitating at-home virtual services, this legislation, championed by Salinas and Harshbarger, targets the mental health needs of farming, fishing, and forestry populations. Supported by prominent associations, it offers a pathway to address the critical gaps in mental health care, providing essential support and fostering better well-being in remote areas.