Kamala Harris' Mental Healthcare Plan Calls for Ending Solitary Confinement, Expanding Services for People of Color

Democratic presidential hopeful California Senator Kamala Harris speaks to the press in the Spin Room after participating in the fifth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia on November 20, 2019.
Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Kamala Harris has released a comprehensive mental healthcare plan that calls for ending the “mental illness to jail pipeline” by reclassifying disorders, ending solitary confinement and a range of other proposals the campaign released this morning.

It is a well-known fact that America’s jails are the biggest providers of mental health treatment, with Cook County Jail being the country’s largest. Harris’ plan aims to invest more funding in Crisis Team Intervention (CTI) training so that law enforcement officers, and the mental health professionals who accompany them, treat people in crisis as medical situations, not criminal ones. Additionally, Harris’ plan will direct federal funding for hiring mental health professionals to accompany police officers responding to mental crisis calls.

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And since solitary confinement has been linked to worsening or creating mental illness, Harris is calling for the end of solitary confinement.

A key component of her plan includes addressing mental health issues in children. With that in mind, she wants to ensure that all children will have a nurse and social worker available at school and screening for issues connected to childhood trauma and support for them to mitigate any negative impacts.

And while Harris praises the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for its focus on protecting the privacy of patients, she argues that it can pose barriers for people caring for family members living with mental illness. So her plan calls for protecting health care providers who disclose protected health information out of good faith to protect the person involved or the public.

Additionally, Harris is calling for doubling research dollars at the Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs to identify veterans with undiagnosed mental health issues.

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Here are a few other items in the senator’s plan:

• Repeal the Institutions of Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion. The IMD exclusion precludes Medicaid funding for adults receiving care in psychiatric facilities with more than 16 beds, and has also exacerbated a severe shortage of acute psychiatric care beds nationwide. Repealing the IMD exclusion will reduce the number of Medicaid patients who end up in already strained general hospital emergency rooms when they need acute psychiatric care.

• Kamala will double the number of treatment beds nationwide, prioritizing states with shortages including Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, and Michigan, so persons with mental illness can receive the high levels of care they need.

• Provide a range of housing options for patients who need sustained support to remain as healthy as possible. For example, Kamala will invest in building psychiatric assisted living campuses on mental health institutes to provide services at multiple levels of care, from secure and acute facilities to supported independent living.

• She’ll cover mental health on demand via telemedicine through her Medicare for All plan, providing direct access to mental health care professionals—with no deductibles and no copays.

• She’ll double the number of treatment beds nationwide, prioritizing states with shortages including Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, and Michigan, so persons with mental illness can receive the high levels of care they need.

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In her capacity as senator, Harris introduced two bills in December 2018 that called for expanding mental health services—especially for people who live in rural areas.

“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 in February during a ‘Politics and Eggs Breakfast’ at 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.”

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Harris will roll out her plan at a town hall Monday in Berkeley County, S.C., along with Charlamagne Tha God.

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Terrell Jermaine Starr

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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