Leading Stories, Articles

July 9th, 2021

Community Impact Survey reveals high levels of poor mental health

By Phyllis Hanlon

In 2019, the Massachusetts Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey found that 11 percent of respondents reported poor mental health. More recently, the Department of Public Health (DPH) conducted the COVID-19 Community Impact Survey (CCIS); the findings of this survey revealed poor mental health rates three times higher than the 2019 survey.

The survey was conducted between September and November 2020 and had more than 35,000 responses. Any Massachusetts resident 14 years old and older was eligible to respond.

Initial results were released February 17, 2021; updated findings were reported May 12, 2021.…

July 9th, 2021

Mass. proposes legislation for prison system suicidal prevention plan

By Eileen Weber

In March, a bill was presented to the Massachusetts legislation that effectively upgrades suicide prevention plans in the state’s prison system. Based on a report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) after an investigation of the suicide response practices of the Department of Corrections (DOC), serious concerns were identified and the bill, S. 1283, seeks to rectify those issues.

For example, some correctional officers who supervised prisoners on suicide watch were found asleep. Some reportedly encouraged self-harm or failed to stop instances of self-harm. And, in some cases, that “willful disregard,” as noted in the report, led to prisoner injury or even death.…

June 26th, 2021

Transhealth Northampton: Bringing gender-diverse care to Western Massachusetts

By Phyllis Hanlon

In 2018, the Fenway Institute, Cooley Dickinson Health Care and Harvard Medical School conducted a planning study, the PATH Project (Plan and Act for Transgender Health), which evaluated the needs and experiences of the transgender and gender diverse populations in the western part of Massachusetts. It also looked at the services offered by regional health care organizations. The findings prompted the creation of Transhealth Northampton, which opened its doors in May 2021.

Dallas Ducar, MSN, APRN, and CEO of Transhealth Northampton, reported that Harry Cohen, the initial financial founder, had tired of driving two or three hours for gender-affirming care and sought resources closer to home.…

April 13th, 2021

Massachusetts launches schools’ initiative to address mental health

By Phyllis Hanlon

Throughout the last year, schooling has looked significantly different than in any other year. The spread of COVID-19 prompted the state to temporarily suspend in-classroom learning. In some cases, schools opened and then shuttered their doors shortly after as cases of the virus increased.

Although some in-person learning has resumed, students have the option of remaining remote or attending school in a hybrid model.

This February in Massachusetts, a new initiative was launched to address the mental health issues that might arise for students during the current pandemic. School principals and administrators, teachers, guidance, and adjustment counselors will attend virtual training sessions.…

March 8th, 2021

MPA seeks better care, quality, and coverage in 2021-2022 legislative session

By Eileen Weber

The Massachusetts Psychological Association (MPA) highlighted three specific aspects of mental health to be focused on during the 2021-2022 legislative session: access to care, quality and continuity of care, and consumer and professional protections.

These focal points are further broken down into other topics needing attention:

  • ensuring health plans are meeting current mental health parity requirements;
  • standardizing insurance cards to show whether the plan is state or privately funded; and
  • allowing coverage for providers for treatment, not just testing and assessment.

Jennifer Warkentin, Ph.D, MPA’s director of professional affairs and a psychologist with her own private practice, noted that the organization has been designating a specific legislative agenda since 2017.…

October 21st, 2020

LifeSet Program prepares often troubled youth for successful lives

By New England Psychologist Staff

The Youth Villages LifeSet Program, designed to help young people aging out of foster care or juvenile justice custody, has proven a success, according to officials with the program in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“Our LifeSet program is the bridge to successful adulthood,” said Lori Sustek, state director in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

She explained that LifeSet is a comprehensive program that works with young adults from the ages of 17.5 to 22 “to help them achieve their goals in education, housing, employment, and basic independent living skills.”

Participants work one on one with a LifeSet specialist, who meets with them one or two times per week to help the young adults identify and achieve their goals of ultimately living independently and successfully, she said.…

May 6th, 2020

Mass. AG settles with health plans on mental health parity compliance

By Janine Weisman

behavioral health coverageSeven insurers agree to policy changes, including correcting reimbursement disparities

Seven health insurance plans are making policy changes and paying a combined total of nearly $1 million to fund initiatives to increase access to behavioral health care under recent settlement agreements with the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

The policy changes by five health insurance companies and two companies that manage behavioral health coverage for other insurers are outlined in agreements filed Feb. 27 in Suffolk Superior Court. The changes address reimbursement rate disparities, eliminate unnecessary authorization requirements and improve the accuracy of provider directories.…

April 19th, 2020

Bill aims to improve access and boost workforce

By Catherine Robertson Souter

Massachusetts legislation bill for mental health care accessIn a unanimous vote, the Massachusetts Senate recently passed a mental health-focused bill designed to bring sweeping changes to the way care is delivered across the state.

Known as the Mental Health ABC Act: Addressing Barriers to Care, the bill outlines new approaches to mental health parity, access to care and to improving, supporting and increasing the mental health workforce.

The bill is being touted as a breakthrough in creating a system designed to better meet the mental health care needs of the state’s 6.9 million residents.

“For far too long, mental health has been a forgotten component of our health care system,” said Senator Cindy F.…

October 9th, 2019

The Walker School completes extensive renovations

By Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Walker School Needham MAThis past summer, the Walker School completed an extensive renovation to its campus, creating new classrooms, a gym, and other improvements to benefit its students who have various behavioral, emotional, and social challenges. Located in Needham, Mass., the Walker School is a private special education school for students ages five through 13.

Previously, the Walker School had three buildings, one of which included a hexagon-shaped building from the 1960s, which their architect noted had “outlived its useful life,” said Danielle Wetmore, M.Ed., the principal at Walker.

It wasn’t conducive for learning or for kids with social, emotional challenges.”…

October 9th, 2019

New England’s last holdout to limit clawbacks finally passes law

By Janine Weisman

claim deniedHealth insurance companies now have a 12-month window to retroactively deny claims they already paid for mental health and substance abuse services in Massachusetts.

Language imposing the time restriction on so-called clawbacks was included in the final fiscal 2020 state budget signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker on July 31. The budget incorporated language from bills in the Senate and House of Representatives that sought to end what mental health providers have long considered an unfair business practice.

No time limit for clawbacks previously existed in Massachusetts, while other New England states had laws requiring health plans to initiate efforts to recoup payments within either 12 or 18 months after a patient receives services.…