Congressman Adam Smith and U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health visit ICHS to hear community input on addressing national mental health crisis
On Monday, March 21, Congressman Adam Smith (WA-9) and U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel L. Levine visited International Community Health Services’ (ICHS) International District Medical and Dental Clinic for a tour, in-person discussion with community leaders, and a press conference.
ICHS was the first stop on Admiral Levine’s tour as part of the Biden Administration’s National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health to coordinate the federal response on addressing the mental health crisis in equitable and effective ways and hear input directly from community leaders.
Congressman Smith and Admiral Levine joined Washington State Department of Health Deputy Secretary for Prevention, Safety and Health Lacy Fehrenbach; Healthcare Authority Director Sue Birch; ICHS president and CEO Teresita Batayola; and leaders from community organizations including Youth Eastside Services Director of School-based Behavioral Health Kristie Neklason and Seattle Indian Health Board President and CEO Esther Lucero and COO Ryan Gilbert for a roundtable discussion discussing local and national efforts to address the mental health crisis.
“We are honored today to have the presence of three different people who are taking a tour and listening to us,” Batayola said. “In terms of the issues that have come up because of COVID and the accelerated mental health admissions of our patients and our community members.”
One of the key topics of discussion was how community organizations and public officials can work together to address the social determinants of health — safe housing, access to jobs and safety — to reinforce the safety net to prevent mental health crisis, and strengthening our crisis care system in our communities.
Recent data show a rising unmet need for behavioral health services. 1.6 million Washingtonians have reported suffering from anxiety and over 1.1 million reporting symptoms of depression. Furthermore 633,000 adults reported needing counseling but were unable to access those services, said Fahrenbach.
Following President Joe Biden's State of the Union Address on March 1, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra kicked off the National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health in an effort to hear directly from Americans across the country about the behavioral health challenges they're facing and engage with local elected officials and leaders to strengthen the mental health and crisis care system in our communities.
“We know we have an enormous crisis in mental health,” said Rep Smith. "It is an incredibly underserved challenge we have. For people facing mental health challenges, where do they go? Where do they get help? How do they know how to access services?”
Building on work that agencies and offices across the Department have already been doing, Secretary Becerra, Admiral Levine and other HHS leaders have hit the road in a concerted effort to deliver on the Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities to tackle these challenges.
“There were already challenges before the pandemic, but our youth have been particularly impacted,” Admiral Levine said. “The losses from COVID and disruptions in routines and relationships have led to increased social isolation, anxiety and learning loss. That’s why your work here at ICHS is so important.”