Sen. Kamala Harris: We Have Mental Health ‘Deserts’ in Our Country

By Melanie Arter | February 20, 2019 | 2:48 PM EST

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) (Screenshot)

( - Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) complained Tuesday of the need for more mental health treatment facilities, calling for the health care system to be restructured to allow for mental health care and substance abuse treatment on demand.

“I am a proponent of Medicare for all, and I believe that we have got to change the reimbursement system that we have, because it is actually not creating incentives for mental health and for mental health care, for community mental health care to exist much less thrive in the communities that most need them,” she said during a “Politics and Eggs Breakfast,” sponsored by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

“We have complete deserts in our country - areas where there is no treatment facility or treatment providers available, and those happen to also be some of the areas with the highest need,” Harris said.

“I believe that part of the restructuring of the system should be this. I believe we should have mental health care on demand, substance abuse treatment on demand, and by that, I mean, that like you can go into an emergency room. You should be able to go into a treatment facility and get mental health care and substance abuse treatment on demand, and I’m gonna get into more detail about that,” she said.


Harris also called for “national standards around what is viable and appropriate treatment and not – particularly as it relates to drug treatment.”

Because there are no national standards for drug treatment, she said, “people are setting up tents around drug treatment facilities --- residential drug treatment facilities, and they’re not receiving the kind of supervision that should happen around whether it is actually meaningful and helpful for the people who are often paying out of pocket to do that.”

“The other piece of it is that we need incentives at a federal level for people to actually go into these professions, because we have a dearth of professionals, especially in those areas most in need, and a large part it is because of the reimbursement system that we have,” the senator said.

“So in areas where there are a lot of people that can afford to pay for the treatment, you see a lot of those professionals, and in areas in particular rural areas of our country, you don’t see any,” Harris said.


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