Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Proposed Senior Mental Health Resolutions

On November 6, 2007, Linda Shumaker, of the Pennsylvania Behavioral Health and Aging Coalition, noted in an email message to coalition members the introduction on November 2, 2007, of two "resolutions" in the Senate relating to special situations of seniors --suicide and mental health treatment.

The first proposed resolution, Senate Resolution 204, Printer's No. 1518, would be a "Concurrent Resolution" by both the Senate and the House.

It would direct the
Joint State Government Commission "to establish a task force to enlist the help of knowledgeable persons to develop eductional materials to identify elderly persons at risk for suicide and to identify barriers and ways to surmount barriers encountered by professionals and nonprofessionals in connecting at-risk persons with appropriate resources."

If SR 204 would be adopted by the Senate & House, then JSGC would "establish a task force of four members of the Senate and four members of the House of Representatives to undertake a study to develop educational materials for health care professionals, seniors' peers, providers of services to the elderly, senior advocacy groups, home care and direct care workers and utility, postal services and police personnel to identify seniors at risk for suicide."

That task force would create an advisory committee, comprised of representatives from the following groups:
  1. Health care professionals.

  2. Mental health advocacy groups.

  3. Counties which have implemented gatekeeper programs.

  4. Senior advocacy groups.

  5. Senior peer support groups.

  6. Meals-on-wheels volunteers.

  7. Senior center personnel.

  8. Area agencies on aging personnel.

  9. Utility postal service and police personnel
That group would "develop educational materials for professionals and nonprofessionals to identify seniors at risk for suicide", and also would "identify barriers and ways to surmount barriers encountered by professionals and nonprofessionals in connecting at-risk persons."

Its report would be due one year after adoption of SR 204.

According to the history for proposed SR 204, it was referred to the Senate Committee on Aging & Youth.

The problem highlighted by SR 204 -- suicide by seniors -- was raised previously in awareness campaigns by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting, "PA Aging Department Encourages Suicide Awareness" (09/13/07). It remains a serious concern.

The second proposed resolution, Senate Resolution 205, Printer's No. 1519, would direct the Senate's Legislative Budget and Finance Committee "to prepare a report on the mental health system for older adults in this Commonwealth."

If SR 205 would be adopted by the Senate, the requested report would "evaluate the continuum of mental health services for older adults and their families."

Under the proposed resolution, a report would be prepared, addressing all of the following:
  1. A review of the availability of community-based outpatient and inpatient mental health services across this Commonwealth.

  2. Evidence-based practices within the mental health system and in primary care settings.

  3. The availability of mental health services in the continuum of long-term care.

  4. Statistical information on the number of older adults needing mental health services.

  5. A survey of the number of section 302 and 304 commitment petitions filed under the act of July 9, 1976 (P.L.817, No.143), known as the Mental Health Procedures Act, along with an assessment of those petitions resulting in treatment or continued treatment and the treatment period.

  6. The timeliness and extent of mental health services provided.

  7. The costs for various types of mental health services for older adults.

  8. The extent to which public and private insurance, including medical assistance and Medicare, provide coverage for the different mental health treatments and services.

  9. Gaps in mental health services among older adults.

  10. Coordination of services among State agencies, county agencies and local entities and providers.
Such a report then would be shared widely within the Legislature, both House & Senate, "no later than 14 months after adoption of this resolution."

According to the history for proposed SR 205, it was referred to the same Senate Committee for further consideration.

For background about mental health and related treatments, see: U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health, described in a Press Release, dated December 13, 1999.

Advocates, such as PBHAC, argue in favor of these proposed resolutions, in keeping with their mission. See: EE&F Law Blog posting, "PA Behavioral Health & Aging Website" (06/26/07).

In its suggested model letter urging adoption, as addressed to members of the Senate Aging & Youth Committee, PBHAC states:
SR 204 and SR 205 would assist policymakers, providers, and consumers obtain the information they need to diagnose and treat mental illness and substance use disorders among older adults in Pennsylvania as well as to develop and implement best practice evidence based early intervention and prevention programs to prevention suicide among the elderly. * * *
The introduction of these two legislative resolutions evidences a growing awareness among elected officials for study of serious problems that will present in greater frequency as PA's population ages.