Monday, April 20, 2020

State Reforms Can Bolster Support for SMI Patients, Providers Through COVID-19

The journals of APA Publishing are receiving numerous submissions on aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. To get information about findings to the field faster, Psychiatric News is posting summaries of these submissions soon after journal submissions are accepted.

People with serious mental illness (SMI) are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The authors of an article in press at Psychiatric Services describe policy, regulatory, and payment reforms in Massachusetts to ensure that patients with SMI have access to the care they need during this critical time.

“Rapidly implementing measures at state and local levels may not only contribute to mitigating the disproportionate morbidity, mortality, and spread of COVID-19 for people with serious mental illness, but may have substantial implications for reducing the impact of this pandemic for the broader population of vulnerable adults with complex physical, social, and psychological needs and disabilities,” wrote Stephen J. Bartels, M.D., M.S., of Harvard Medical School and colleagues.

Among the emergency policy and financing initiatives rolled out by the state in response to COVID-19 were the following:

  • State Medicaid, third-party, and federal Medicare and HIPAA waivers allowing extensive use of provider-to-person home and community-based telehealth assessments and treatments.
  • Guaranteed coverage for all individuals with MassHealth as of March 18, and for all individuals approved for coverage during the COVID-19 national emergency and one month after the emergency period ends.
  • Over $100 million in stabilization funding to support the salaries of essential residential, outpatient, and institution-based behavioral health professionals.
  • Approval of temporary three-month medical licenses for graduating medical students and recently retired physicians.

“These and other adopted measures could subsequently translate to downstream reforms in how we care for these populations during more ordinary times,” the authors wrote. “Once we make it through this crisis and reflect on the lessons learned in implementing these innovations and reforms, we should not waste this potentially transformative opportunity by returning to business as usual.”

For related news, see the Psychiatric News article “Patients With SMI in the Age of COVID-19: What Psychiatrists Need to Know.”

The article is in press at Psychiatric Services and can be cited as follows: Bartels SJ, Baggett TP, Freudenreich O, Bird BL: Case Study of Massachusetts COVID-19 Emergency Policy Reforms to Support Community-based Behavioral Health and Reduce Mortality of People With Serious Mental Illness.

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APA Members Invited to Join AHA Webinar to Focus on Lessons Learned Regarding Behavioral Health Services During COVID-19 Pandemic

Wednesday, April 22, 2-3 p.m. ET

Senior leaders from Baltimore’s Sheppard Pratt Health System, including President and CEO and AHA Trustee Harsh Trivedi, M.D., will discuss how they re-engineered care processes, developed new care protocols for agitated patients, and created a virtual emergency department assessment to decrease the number of psychiatric patients in the ED during the COVID-19 surge. Sheppard Pratt also will discuss its efforts to support staff and build resilience during the crisis. Register for the webinar here.


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