The top executives of four behavioral healthcare industry associations delivered a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and other federal health officials with one message on Wednesday: Don’t forget about us.
Charles Ingoglia of the National Council for Behavioral Health, Saul Levin, MD, MPA, of the American Psychiatric Association, Dan Gillison Jr. of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Paul Gionfriddo of Mental Health America co-signed the letter, which asked the federal government to provide personal protection equipment to behavioral health professionals on the front line of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic.
“This need is particularly acute in residential treatment facilities for SMI [serious mental illness], SUD [substance use disorder] and crisis stabilization,” the four executives wrote. “These are 24-hour facilities that are often locked, in which patients may stay from days to months. They are not hospitals and have very limited nurse or physician staffing. These facilities are the major community resource for getting individuals with SMI or SUD out of general hospital emergency departments (EDs) and inpatient units into safe and effective treatment when they cannot be discharged to the community.”
Cognitive difficulties and psychological challenges often make following social distancing and quarantine protocols more difficult for SMI and SUD patients, the executives noted. With residential treatment facilities being made a lower priority for PPE than hospitals and nursing homes, the industry executives said they have received reports from facility medical directors that the combination of a lack of protective supplies and fear of being infected have driven up to 40% of staff members to call in sick.
The letter concludes: “To keep people with SMI and SUD out of hospitals and EDs where beds are needed to care for those experiencing complications from COVID-19, we must adequately equip residential treatment facilities to care for this high-risk population. We respectfully urge you to ensure that residential treatment facilities receive the same priority for vital PPE supplies as hospitals and nursing homes.”