February 2, 2021
The 43rd Legislative Breakfast on Mental Health was held on January 30th. Much of the discussion was centered on the “uptick” of mental health needs because of the pandemic and the critical need to address the gap in health insurance coverage. Donna Carrington, Executive Director of the Community Empowerment Fund, was the speaker representing individuals with lived experience. Ms. Carrington used her personal experience to exemplify the ongoing need to improve racial equity and health care access to a workforce that represents and understands the needs and perspectives of individuals of color.
NC DHHS Secretary Cohen emphasized the importance of moving forward on a whole person care approach to health and human services. “Covid has shown that we need to keep focusing on whole person well-being,” Cohen stated. She acknowledged that the mental system was challenged prior to the pandemic and noted that we now need to focus on the core structure of the system.
NC DHHS Deputy Secretary Kody Kinsley took a deeper dive on Secretary Cohen’s comments by identifying COVID-19, racial inequity, social injustice, maintaining day-to-day operations and designing and operationalizing the future of the State as the overarching priorities for NC DHHS right now. Kinsley stated, “As much as we have a whole person response, we have to have a whole state response.”
Legislators followed up on this point by giving some legislative action that could strengthen the behavioral health system. Those points included: increasing the trained workforce, focusing on early intervention and prevention, addressing the insurance coverage gap and increasing parity between coverage for health care and behavioral health care coverage. Senator Burgin, a new chair of the Senate HHS Appropriations, also raised the importance of housing availability and community-based services to increase access.
Rep. Carla Cunningham, a nurse representing Mecklenburg County and serving her fifth term in the NC General Assembly, received the Paul Luebke 2021 Legislative Champion on Mental Health Award.