Mental health and addiction treatment centers and counselors have been overwhelmed with work during the coronavirus pandemic and economic crash. But many are struggling to stay afloat amid confusion and delays over the federal bailout for the health care industry.
Some have waited months for the release of promised aid. Others held out and didn’t apply, believing they’d get a better deal in a future round of funding aimed at centers that see mostly low-income patients. As a result, nearly a third haven’t received any of the $175 billion HHS is doling out to hospitals and other health providers on the front lines of the coronavirus response. And now, they’re appealing to the government for help.
Centers caught in a financial squeeze are shedding staff or unable to buy protective gear while trying to serve a flood of new patients and transition some existing patients to online visits. Meanwhile the burden of a global pandemic and mass unemployment is driving up demand: Calls to a federal mental health crisis hotline have increased ten-fold during the pandemic compared to a year ago — a trend experts could derail the progress the government has made on the opioid crisis.
Mental health providers who criticize the government for setting up an inefficient, even convoluted process for distributing the money say HHS should do right by them.
“I’m hearing everyone saying, ‘Yes we see it coming, we know increases are going to happen,’ but we’re not seeing corresponding responses at the national or state level,” said Sherry Daley, the senior government affairs director for the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals.
Advocacy groups late last week asked the Trump administration to guarantee behavioral health providers get targeted payouts. The industry sees the approach as a quicker fix than waiting for Congress to assemble another coronavirus bailout package later this summer. But the odds of getting money in the next package could be long with new Covid-19 cases spiking around the country and stretching health systems: The mental health providers struck out in April when they appealed to Congress for $50 billion in dedicated money for their centers.
The industry was bound to experience massive upheaval during the public health crisis. Treatment centers have long been underfunded and specialize in the kind of in-person care that wasn’t possible during lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.
But the pandemic has hit the centers harder and faster than expected. In California, nearly 60 percent of behavioral health providers say they have lost staff, many of whom feared going into work because of the coronavirus, according to an industry survey. In North Carolina, nearly 20 providers have already laid off employees, and even more are worried they’ll need to cut staff. One Illinois provider has lost over $1 million since the pandemic began while receiving just $6,000 in federal relief.
Almost half of mental health…