Rounds leading a bipartisan effort to expand rural mental health services

Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 6:53 PM CDT
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On Wednesday, Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) announced legislation, called the The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2020, that would establish grant programs for health care providers to further develop telehealth mental health services in rural areas.

The six other co-sponsors are from all corners of the country and are from both parties and they seek to help the 1 in 4 people who will have a diagnosable mental illness.

Telehealth is the use of technology to connect patients with health care providers and for people living in rural areas it can be especially helpful.

"So rather than making farmers, and ranchers, and foresters have to drive, in some cases, 70 or 80 miles to get to a mental health professional, this would allow grants for that some of our hospitals and our health care organizations could deliver tele-mental health services to rural areas via computer or over the phone," said Rounds.

While mental health concerns can impact anyone, at any time, there are some unique differences between rural and urban settings.

"Somebody in a rural area, smaller communities, they're going to be impacted by things like weather and crops and financial stresses and different things like that," said Teri Corrigan, the Associate Executive Officer for Behavior Management Systems. "We see people who experience significant depending on the year."

Wednesday's proposed legislation would authorize up to $10 million a year until 2025 for grant projects and Corrigan is hopeful that more people will get the help they need.

"We're hopeful that, you know, expanding and doing more of the telehealth services really might be able to help reach people who maybe more reluctant to reach out for help in the past," said Corrigan.

Rounds says this issue is completely bipartisan because mental health transcends demographics and parties.

"The vast majority of the work that we do is on a bipartisan basis," said Rounds. "We work together on the vast majority of the issues in our ear. This is one of those items where this is Republicans and Democrats that are from rural areas, recognizing that we have something in common, and that's the need to improve the health care and access to health care in rural areas."

Corrigan said having conversations about mental health, and introducing legislation like this, are some of the first steps toward removing the stigma and letting people know there is help available.