State House OKs bipartisan bills to improve mental health treatment

Includes Schlossberg bill for local fatality review boards

HARRISBURG, Nov. 17 – A bipartisan legislative package to create local fatality review boards to help prevent future overdose deaths and suicides and to modernize Pennsylvania’s mental health and substance use disorder laws unanimously passed the state House of Representatives, according to one of the bill authors Rep. Mike Schlossberg.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler and Representatives Frank Farry and Tina Pickett on this package and I look forward to working with leaders of both parties on mental health care. If Democrats were the majority party, I would have written the legislation the same way. This is what leaders do: they see a problem and they work to fix it. As a result of these efforts, Pennsylvania will take critical steps to improve a woefully ineffective mental health care system,” said Schlossberg, D-Lehigh. "This is the type of work our constituents expect of us."

Schlossberg said under his H.B. 1308, local communities and agencies across Pennsylvania would establish fatality review teams like Pennsylvania’s Methadone Death and Incident Review Team, that would bring together representatives from various public safety, public health, and social services agencies to identify system gaps and opportunities to prevent future suicides and overdose deaths.

The Lehigh Valley lawmaker said the overdose crisis is not stagnant, instead it is rapidly shifting and the need for timely, in-depth data and actionable recommendations has become increasingly vital.

House Bill 1561 would amend the state Mental Health Procedures Act and H.B. 1563 would amend the Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Abuse Control Act to align with federal health privacy standards to permit providers, facilities and health plans to share patient mental health and substance use disorder-related information more easily.

Both bills would utilize terminology and requirements that are already familiar to providers, to create a consistent and easily understandable standard and revise outdated regulations to provide consistency between statutory and regulatory language and their intended requirements.

“These bills will allow patients to receive care that focuses on the whole person. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a greater understanding that mental health and physical health do not exist in separate silos. When somebody has a challenge with mental health, it likely has an effect on physical health. Likewise, when somebody has a physical health challenge, it can have an effect on mental health. It’s time we stop treating physical health and mental health separately and integrate treatments,” Schlossberg said.

All three bills were referred to the state Senate for consideration.