Bolinsky And Legislature Focusing On Mental Health
The mental health of our state’s children and adults is a top priority for Democrats and Republicans in the Connecticut House of Representatives, and Rep Mitch Bolinsky (R-106) is fully on board.
“Mental health is at the core of everything,” Bolinsky told The Newtown Bee in a recent interview.
House Bill 5001, an Act Concerning Children’s Mental Health, includes initiatives to improve and expand mental health workforce development, services in schools, insurance coverage, resources for behavioral health providers and programs, and systems currently in place.
The omnibus bill will also tackle insurance coverage for children with mental health concerns.
Some of the proposals would require health insurers to cover intensive services for children’s behavioral health treatment and cover collaborative care for behavioral health. One provision in the bill would allow out-of-state providers to offer services in Connecticut.
Bolinsky said the need for the focus on mental health comes from the unintended consequences of isolation coming out of the pandemic. He also identified it as “the most important thing we [the legislature] are doing right now.”
“Nothing else exists if you can’t get out of bed in the morning,” said Bolinsky.
For children, he said that there has been a “profound learning loss,” both from learning from home and from masking. He said that very young children learn from seeing the faces of other children and adults.
“The State Department of Education and the CDC both recognize it as a serious problem,” Bolinsky said. “I hope when we go about our work, we stay sensitive to what Newtown has repeatedly proven — the best approach is to keep things in the community. Most experts have long since concluded community-based support services are far more personal, accessible, and accountable.”
Bolinsky said that nonprofits and community youth agencies work on a local level, as they are easier for those struggling to access and are more personal. It also allows for “some level of support right in the schools.” He believes that other than in 2013 and 2014, the state has “never really done a good job” supporting community nonprofits.
Bolinsky said that government “should be doing what it can” for people in situations where they “need tools to lift themselves up, and have the access to those tools be close to home and with as little bureaucratic frustrations as possible.”
Issues facing young people in the wake of the pandemic include depression, social issues, and inability to develop good communication and collaborative skills, and it has led to children younger than one would normally think attempting to harm themselves, Bolinsky said.
“That’s terrifying,” Bolinsky said. “The suffering that would lead to an elementary school student thinking their life had no value is something no one should experience.”
Bolinsky said the bill could use COVID funds to give the ability to quickly deploy plans once it is figured out how the funds could best be applied. A task force has been looking into the best ways to address mental health across the state and how best to use funds allocated towards it.
Underwriting Local Agencies
The Newtown lawmaker remained firm in his belief that funds could be best used underwriting organizations such as Newtown Youth & Family Services and the Newtown Sandy Hook Community Foundation, as they are “good examples of community values” and “how well things can be handled by local people that care.”
The bill would also provide resources to improve behavioral health workforce development. One of the proposals establishes a student loan forgiveness program for children’s mental health workers.
Another sets up a grant program to hire youth psychiatrists and retain child psychiatrists currently employed in the state.
Specifics on how much money would be committed to each provision in the bill were still being debated. Lawmakers said they would use public input to shape each initiative. A public hearing is planned for February 25.
Bolinsky also is looking to “fix some holes in insurance coverage,” in relation to mental health. He has a proposal that would prevent insurance companies from forcing a patient to sever their relationship with a clinician by excluding coverage to that clinician.
“It’s dangerous and not humane,” said Bolinsky.
Bolinsky said while he doesn’t have all the answers on the best ways to handle mental health issues, he said the legislature should be “listening to the problems and matching solutions, and not just throwing pots of money into the sky and hoping it lands in the right place.”
Bolinsky also is hoping to craft a bill on prison phone calls.
“When I found out that phone calls by inmates was in the line items for the prison budget, I was offended,” said Bolinsky.
He said that looking at how the criminal justice system works is important, and “diversionary programs” that offer mental health, addiction support and other aid to those in the system are important.
“It will help cut recidivism more than keeping someone locked in a cell,” Bolinsky said, noting that while it is important to also remember “who the victims are,” the current climate of “catch and release” of people convicted of crimes leads to those people going out and committing crimes again after release. Offering programs to assist convicts with their mental health issues will help stop that.
“We need to send them out really rehabilitated versus not taking the time and energy in investing in fixing the problem,” he said.
He noted that people struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse often are not deterred by the prospect of the consequences of their actions because “they are willing to do whatever so that they can not think,” including putting their own lives in danger by consuming dangerous substances.
Dance And Movement Therapy
Another mental health related topic Bolinsky is looking toward is creating a licensing process for dance and movement therapy. There is currently a registration process for art therapy, but not for dance and movement. Bolinsky has been pursuing this for “several years,” and was “close in 2020 but the pandemic knocked us out of that.”
Bolinsky said since the structure is already in place for art therapy it will require “very little effort” to copy that over to dance and music therapy, since the infrastructure can just be reused.
“This is a way to reach folks in the way they are most reachable,” said Bolinsky, who also hopes that music therapy can be licensed in the future.
The last item Bolinsky is looking towards for the current legislative session, while not mental health related, is creating more protection for electric ratepayers, through the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).
“PURA is a great concept, and its new commissioner, Marissa Gillette, is an experienced, brilliant regulator who most recently did a lot for the consumers and ratepayers of Maryland,” said Bolinsky.
However, PURA in its current form, has lost most of its authority and is currently more of an oversight board than a regulatory board.
“I say we can’t do that,” said Bolinsky. “When a regulator can’t regulate, the ratepayers aren’t represented.”
Bolinsky said he introduced three bills that have been combined into one concept. The first is rate decoupling, which would introduce more authority and oversight into PURA and would require Eversource to reimburse customers for power outages.
“Eversource falls back on the claim that if the power is not on, they are not billing,” said Bolinsky. “But that doesn’t take into account spoilage, lack of heat and water, and other things.”
Another of his energy related bills would create a mechanism that would give the power company a revenue target and maximum return; if profits are exceedingly high, the excess would be split 50/50 between ratepayers and shareholders, instead of shareholders reaping the sole benefits.
“This levels the playing field,” said Bolinsky. “By combining rate decoupling and earnings sharing, we have a legitimate representation of ratepayer interests.”
Bolinsky said that these ideas “are not untested” and were implemented in Maryland by Gillette.
The last of the bills is stopping Eversource from passing on the costs of trade shows, lobbying, donations, and other items to the ratepayers.
“Those are corporate policy that should be paid for by the shareholders, not the ratepayers,” said Bolinsky. “Put those three together and it will lower electric bills and prevent unexplained things from happening in the future.”
CT Mirror reporting was used in this feature.
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.