KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Newtown Shooting Spotlights Gaps In Mental Health Care

The elementary school massacre prompts an examination of mental health care policies and access to guns by the mentally ill.

Wall Street Journal: Lawmakers Focus Early Gun-Curb Efforts On Mentally Ill
The debate over gun rights in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., has yielded one point of agreement among Republican and Democratic political leaders in Washington: laws on access to firearms among the mentally ill must be reviewed. But any effort to expand limits on gun rights based on mental health is bound to collide with privacy protections for patients and a variety of other considerations when addressing mental health (Fields and Jones, 12/18).

MPR: Funding For Mental Health Lacking
Another mass shooting, this one involving little children, has the country talking about the availability of guns and gun violence. But some experts and law makers say that discussion should also include a serious look at mental health care in this country. Families with a mentally ill family member say it's difficult to get them adequate care. In the Twin Cities, for example, the shortage of beds in local hospitals for the mentally ill is so bad patients Twin Cities patients are often sent to Duluth or other places for acute care. To look at the situation, MPR's Cathy Wurzer called longtime state Representative Mindy Greiling. The soon-to-retire lawmaker also has firsthand knowledge of the mental health system, her son has been diagnosed with schizophrenia (12/18).

ABC: Newtown Shooting Put Spotlight On U.S. Mental Health Care -- Again
It has not yet been confirmed whether Adam Lanza had been diagnosed with mental illness, but the 20-year-old who murdered his mother, then drove to a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and gunned down 20 first-graders and six adults has again shined the spotlight on care for the mentally ill in the United States, and has many asking whether yet another mass shooting could have been prevented. Despite four shooting rampages since President Obama took office in 2009, mental health care continues to be hampered by budget cuts, closures, battles with insurers and stigma, doctors said. "We have very good treatments for mental illness that are highly effective," said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association. "But they're not widely available. People don't have ready access to them" (Lupkin, 12/19).

Kaiser Health News: Colorado Gov Pitches Plan To Mend Mental Health Safety Net
In a grim coincidence, just days after the mass killing in Newtown, Conn., Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing an $18.5 million plan to strengthen the state’s mental health system. The proposal is the result of five months of work by a group of advisors convened by Hickenlooper in the wake of a mass shooting in July at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that left 12 dead. The governor’s announcement had been set well before Friday’s massacre (Whitney, 12/19).

The Associated Press: Hickenlooper Wants Expansion Of Mental Care
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to expand mental health services and make mental health records readily available for background checks on firearm purchases -- initiatives that are a response to the Aurora theater shooting this summer. The governor’s office and health officials began working on the proposals days after the theater shooting in July and had planned the announcement for weeks (Moreno, 12/18).

Meanwhile, news outlets look at some other mental health care issues.

MPR: 'Make It OK' Campaign Aims At Mental Illness Stigma
A new campaign called "Make It OK" is encouraging Minnesotans to talk more openly about mental illness. The campaign aims to de-stigmatize mental health conditions so people will be more willing to seek out the care that they need. The project was launched by the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, HealthPartners and Regions Hospital in St. Paul. HealthPartners President and CEO Mary Brainerd, who appeared on The Daily Circuit Tuesday, said both society and the health care system need to treat people with mental illness with greater understanding. "Small things that start to indicate whatever illness you're experiencing, we support you, we want you to get better," Brainerd said. "Doing just the same kinds of things for people with mental illness as we do for those experiencing other kinds of illness" (Benson, 12/18).

WBUR: Worried Group Home Workers Seek Protections As Mass. Aims To Improve Safety
With light streaming in through windows overlooking a glittering Dorchester Bay, hundreds of Massachusetts mental-health workers and advocates gathered earlier this month in a cavernous room at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston to honor a slain colleague — and looked for reassurance from state and industry leaders they’ll be kept safe on the job. Stephanie Moulton was 25 and working alone at a Revere group home when she was slain in 2011, allegedly by a client with a history of violence (Becker, Mulvihill, Stine, 12/19).

Finally, a study finds unmet health care needs among adults with autism.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Many Adults With Autism Unhappy With Their Health Care
U.S. adults with autism are more likely to report poor health care experiences than those without autism, a new study reveals. Researchers conducted an online survey of 209 adults with autism and 228 adults without the disorder and found that those with autism reported more unmet health care needs, greater use of emergency departments, and lower rates of preventive services such as Pap smears (a cervical cancer screening test) (Preidt, 12/18).

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