The NH Community Behavioral Health Association (CBHA), representing the 10 Community Mental Health Centers in the state, joins our mental health and healthcare partners in recognizing Lori Shibinette for her service as Commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services. The commissioner recently announced she will be leaving at the end of 2022, and Governor Chris Sununu now has the task of finding someone to replace her as head of the state’s biggest and toughest agency. .
From day one, Commissioner Shibinette has been laser-focused on getting people in mental health crisis out of hospital emergency rooms and into appropriate and timely mental health care. She worked to set up new mobile crisis teams, to create a new psychiatric hospital for children and to increase the number of beds available for children and adults. And she did all of this during the toughest public health crisis of our lifetimes: the COVID-19 pandemic. It reminds me of how dancer Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she had to do it backwards, and in heels, with incredible purpose, much like our current commissioner.
Community Mental Health Centres, our staff, our Boards of Directors and the people we serve owe a debt of gratitude to the Commissioner for her dedicated work on mental health issues. On an even broader scale, we want to recognize that she and her staff have been the voice of reason in the State House when misinformation about COVID-19, vaccines, masking and other critical public health issues has spread over the past two years. . Thanks to the determination and hard work of DHHS, hospitals, community health centers, mental health centers and other advocates, 2022 has succeeded in pushing back many of the anti-public health, anti-vaccine measures. and proposed anti-science. in the Legislative Assembly.
As we approach a new legislative session and a new state budget begins to take shape, it is essential that DHHS has a leader who promotes access to care, implementation and expansion. evidence-based practices, data collection and science above all else. In the field of mental health, we need a leader who understands the strength and effectiveness of a community care system; who can solve the labor crisis with increased funding for the state loan repayment program; who advocates for and understands the importance and relationship between Medicaid rates, access to services, and a valued workforce; and who will address administrative burden relief to help us retain essential staff and optimize our teams to deliver clinical excellence to our respective communities. The CBHA has begun working in all of these areas with DHHS and the governor’s office, and we look forward to working with a new commissioner as well.
We must not lose sight of key pieces of legislation and extreme proposals seen in the last session that could be reintroduced in 2023, such as the controversial Parental Rights Bill that died in conference committee in May. A related invoice, House Bill 1639, relating to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which allows the state to apply for and qualify for federal funds, also died in a conference committee, but is also likely to be resurrected. The sponsors argue that high school students should not take part in the anonymous survey without parental consent because the questions about suicide, domestic violence and drug use are too intrusive and upsetting. The CBHA and other advocates argue that the value of the data collected through the YRBS is critical in assessing the needs of communities and then how to proactively address the issues our teens face.
Our children depend on us and we need to understand their mental health needs in order to be successful in having a positive impact on care and overall health. A recent news story about a teenage suicide in Bedford pointed to data from the 2019 YRBS at Bedford High School, which highlighted that drug use was higher there than at other schools in the area and across the country. ‘State, clearly important information for the school and communities is useful.
As we consider how a new DHHS commissioner can best serve the state and its residents, please build on the work Commissioner Shibinette has done over the past 2 and a half years in the areas of public health and mental health. We wish him well as we pledge to continue his efforts to improve access to care, maintain and support the community care system, and adhere to science and truth.