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2022 Regional Policy Council Recap

The year began with our Winter meeting entitled Think Big, Act Locally (held virtually) on January 28, 2022. We honored Governor Doug Ducey, (AZ-R) and Governor Jared Policy (CO-D). Beginning at the federal level MHA’s Chief Policy Officer, Mary Giliberti, previewed Federal legislative initiatives for the coming year and how Congress makes us have to “Hurry Up and Wait.” Dr. Eric Rafla-Yuan from California Congressman Cardenas’ office previewed a bill that MHA advocacy played a large role in shaping for building out the 988 system nationwide. We moved on to the state level with presentations from AJ Walker of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) and brought a focus on county and rural issues with Jonah Cunningham, Executive Director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors (NACBHDD), and the National Association for Rural Mental Health. We also got a glimpse into what is happening at our MHA’s on the state and county levels from our Regional Policy Council Representatives. Moe Keller from Mental Health Colorado presenting on how Colorado counties are working together to improve mental health services statewide. Ben Harrington of MHA of East Tennessee spoke about how a gap analysis done by his affiliate was able to increase funding in Knoxville, Shannah Mulvihill from Mental Health Minnesota demonstrated how a dashboard based on MHA screening data has been creating systems change, and Barb Johnston from MHANJ told us about advocacy based on MHA priorities is paying off in New Jersey.

In August, the RPC celebrated eleven bipartisan legislators, from eight states, on August 2nd at the meeting entitled Peering into the Future, in Denver, Colorado, which coincided with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) annual summit. The day began with remarks from MHA President and CEO Schroder Stribling, followed by a legislative breakfast with a greeting by Tammy Jo Hill, an official of NCSL, and remarks from two previous MHA Mental Health Legislative Champions, Representative Dafna Michelson Jenet (D-CO) and Representative Steve Eliason (R-UT). Following the keynote Peers in Crisis Care Transformation by David Covington, LPC, MBA, President and CEO, RI International, more than 70 in-person and an equal number of virtual attendees shared learning on many ways peers are already shaping the future. MHA’s Kelly Davis, Associate VP of Peer Advocacy, Supports, and Services, MHA offered Youth Perspective into the Future of Healing Communities and Peer Pathways. Attendees learned about Peers Creating Innovative Engagement from Heather Simms, Deputy Director Peer Advocacy and Community Initiatives, and Anne Smullen Thieling, Deputy Director, Community Programs, Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey, followed by Digital Peer Support and the Role of Technology in Recovery from Dr. Karen Fortuna, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Dartmouth College. After the Federal Legislative Update on the PEERS Act and More from Mary Giliberti, Chief Public Policy Officer, and Caren Howard, Director of Policy and Advocacy, MHA RPC Representatives Ben Harrington, MHA of East Tennessee, and Shannah Mulvihill, Mental Health Minnesota offered examples of How MHA Affiliates Employ Peers in Innovative Ways. Also joining in were Barb Johnston of MHANJ and the RPC’s newest representative Laura Evans from Vibrant Behavioral Health. The day concluded with a tribute to Moe Keller from Mental Health Colorado, who retired after 18 years of serving as an RPC representative.

RPC’s third meeting of 2022, held virtually on October 24th, looked at compelling new evidence that is emerging on the therapeutic use of psychedelics as a treatment for mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. More than 100 live attendees and an ever-growing number of people downloading the meeting heard exciting new research and practices in the field. Speakers included psychiatrists Dr. Saundra Jain, MA, PsyD, LPC, and Dr. Rakesh Jain, MD, MPH, co-founders of Jain Uplift. They were joined by the President of the American Psychedelic Association, nurse anesthetist Katherine Walker, APRN, CRNA, PMHNPS, founder of Revitalist – one of the largest publicly listed, ketamine-focused clinic operations in the United States with locations across 8 states; and the Mental Health Association of South-Central Kansas (MHASCK), President and CEO Mary Jones, LCMFT, LCAC, sharing information about MHASCK's Esketamine clinic.

The final RPC meeting Surfing the Policy Wave, was held on December 7th in beautiful Honolulu, Hawaii, coinciding with the Council of State Governments (CSG) annual meeting. After a welcome from MHA Hawaii Executive Director and a traditional Hawaiian chant known as an Oli led by Dolly Tatofi, LCSW, Maternal Child Health Director, Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services, a packed room of attendees celebrated nine new legislative champions from seven states. The legislative breakfast opened with a greeting from former CSG president (and MHA awardee) Senator Joan Ballweg (R-WI).

The policy wave began with Jose Davila, Deputy Director of State Government Affairs, Everytown for Gun Safety, joined by MHA’s Debbie Plotnick, who led an interactive discussion and presentation on Firearm Safety and Suicide Prevention. The wave built with Mestisa Gass, PsyD, Program Director, Mental Health America of Hawaii, Amanda Martinez, MPH, Training Program Manager, Mental Health America of Hawaii, and Danielle Bergan, Maui Community Coordinator, Mental Health America of Hawaii, speaking about Youth Mental Health in Hawaii. Laura Evans, Director of National and State Policy, Vibrant Emotional Health, and RPC Representative, offered an overview of the first five months of 988 operations. Continuing MHA’s focus on youth, Caitlin Hochul, State Outreach Advisor Project Manager, and Rachel McGreevy, State Outreach Advisor from the State Exchange on Employment & Disability Mental Health Initiative (SEED), were joined by Dina Klimkina, Program Director, Council of State Governments (CSG) to speak about state and federal programs on Employment for Youth with Mental Health Needs. Participants got an overview of the End of the 117th Congress Federal Policy Update and a Look Ahead from Mary Giliberti and Caren Howard. The wave came ashore with MHA Regional Policy Council Representatives: Barbara Johnston, Mental Health Association in New Jersey; Ben Harrington, Mental Health Association of East Tennessee; Shannah Mulvihill, Mental Health Minnesota; and Laura Evans, Vibrant Emotional Health speaking about Work Force and Access Advocacy Opportunities in the States.