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Finding Innovate Ways To Combat Our Substance Abuse and Mental Health Crisis

This article was contributed by guest columnist, West Virginia State Senator Ryan Weld (R- Brooke,01).

As a state senator, I have always made the mental health issues faced by West Virginians one of my top priorities here in Charleston.  That’s why earlier this week I was thrilled to see my legislation on what are known as Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC’s) – Senate Bill 247 – passed unanimously out of the Senate’s Health Committee. 

This bill focuses on CCBHC’s and the need for West Virginia to join forty-two other states in adopting this model of treatment which provides comprehensive mental health and substance use services to any person in crisis.

As a veteran and former prosecutor, I have seen firsthand the mental health and substance abuse crisis West Virginians continue to battle, especially those in the rural areas of our state. As a result, I am a strong supporter of the CCBHC model and the quality of care it would provide by connecting patients with the affordable and innovative services they deserve.

Unfortunately, West Virginia continues to face obstacles in mental health services, especially crisis services, which place a heavy burden on our communities - and our law enforcement officers in particular. Without access to appropriate alternatives, officers often are left with a set of poor choices: leave people in potentially harmful situations, transport them to an emergency room (where our hospitals are already facing critical levels of patient capacity and workforce shortages due to COVID-19), or arrest them.

The CCBHC model will provide same-day access to mental health services, which is a vital component to not only properly treating a patient in crisis, but to also reduce recidivism within our judicial system.

In working on this legislation, I looked at the substantial success Missouri has already had with the CCBHC model.  Since its implementation four years ago, they have seen a 27% increase in patient access to care, a 21% decrease in ER visits and a 12% decrease in hospitalizations. CCBHC’s also are providing 122% more patients with medication assisted treatment for substance use disorder and mental health care.

Another one of West Virginia’s major needs is the improvement of mental health and substance use services provided to our veterans. Far too often have I seen fellow veterans suffer from substance use disorders which almost always stem from mental health illnesses such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

On this issue, Missouri has experienced a 41% increase in veterans served by CCBHC’s in just four years. No one better understands what veterans are going through than veterans - which is why the state continues to hire them to conduct outreach and break down the barriers of mental health treatments among their fellow veterans.  

From a financial standpoint, West Virginia currently spends a significant amount of state dollars on our mental health services including involuntary hospitalizations. CCBHC’s will allow us to maximize our federal dollars for care.

On a federal level, this treatment model enjoys considerable bipartisan support across the country – including Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, as well as Congressman David McKinley – all who have sponsored the federal legislation on CCBHC’s.

While the CCBHC bill has passed through one committee, it still has several more steps to take before it becomes law – so I’ll continue to advocate for it here at the Capitol until it does.   

The support is there. The momentum is undeniable. I believe it is imperative to get this legislation passed. We owe it to the people of this great state who need us now more than ever.

Senator Weld represents the 1st Senatorial District and serves as the Majority Whip as well as the Chair of the Military Committee and Vice Chair of the Judiciary Committee in the West Virginia Senate. He also is an attorney with the firm of Spilman, Thomas & Battle in their Wheeling office.

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