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Rounds, Smith Lead Bipartisan Legislation Expanding Mental Health Services in Rural America

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) reintroduced legislation to expand mental health and substance use services. The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2023 would establish a grant program for health providers to increase telemental health services in rural areas and for individuals working in the farming, forestry and fishing industries.

“Individuals in rural areas may not have easy access to a mental health facility, making in-person visits difficult for those seeking care,” said Rounds. “Utilizing telemental health capabilities will allow South Dakotans in rural areas to receive quality care from the comfort of their homes. Not only does this save time and resources, it provides an important mental health service for our farmers and ranchers, who for years have suffered economically due to challenging weather, trade disputes and price disparities.”

“When I experienced depression, resources were there for me. But right now, too many people don’t have access to the mental or behavioral health care they need, and that’s especially true in rural communities,” said Smith. “Our bipartisan bill will help health providers in rural areas expand tele-mental health care services for farmers, ranchers and foresters, and many others in local communities who are experiencing stress, burnout and other mental challenges.”

This legislation would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in coordination with the Rural Health Liaison of the Department of Agriculture, to award grants to entities to establish mental health and substance use services to rural populations in their homes, particularly those working in farming, fishing and forestry occupations. It would authorize up to $10 million for each fiscal year through 2027 using current funds.

The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act is supported by the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations, Avera McKennan, Sanford Health, Monument Health, South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, South Dakota Pork Producers Council, South Dakota Farmers Union, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and National Rural Health Association.

“The South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations (SDAHO) wants to thank Sen. Mike Rounds for proposing this Home-Based Telemental Health Care Legislation to establish a home-based telemental health care demonstration program,” said Tim Rave, President and CEO of SDAHO. “It will provide increased access to mental health care for those living in rural medically underserved populations specifically helping our rural residents in the farming, fishing, and forestry occupations.”

“I am very pleased that Sen. Rounds is introducing this bill which will help address the significant mental health and substance abuse treatment needs in the farming, fishing and forestry areas of our country,” said Thomas Otten, Assistant Vice President for Behavioral Health Services at Avera McKennan. “Many times individuals working in these industries have very limited access to necessary treatment resources due to distance, time and the nature of their work. This Telemedicine model will deliver necessary services directly to the person which will enhance access and privacy. I truly believe more people will access treatment services because of this initiative – and the research derived from it will lead to improved outcomes for our citizens in need.”

“Sanford Health would like to thank Sen. Rounds and Sen. Smith for their leadership on these issues,” said Corey Brown, System Vice President of Government Affairs for Sanford Health. “Mental health continues to emerge as the next national challenge and we appreciate the proactive, informed, and direct attention towards trying to tackle this significant healthcare issue.”

“Monument Health supports Bipartisan Legislation expanding mental health services in rural areas, and we are grateful for Senator Rounds’ leadership to address important rural mental health issues,” said Mike Diedrich, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for Monument Health. “This legislation will help eliminate barriers to the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues for many rural stress points in the agriculture sector, rural first responders and rural community youth and family needs. Telemental health services provide the technology to serve the patients where they live and provide information about resources that will support treatment plans.”

“People experiencing a great deal of stress or living with mental health issues may struggle to maintain healthy relationships, have difficulty succeeding at work, or otherwise experience challenges while managing the demands of their daily lives,” said Doris Lauing, Executive Director of South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. “Over the past few years, farmers and ranchers have experienced significant economic stressors, including: fluctuating commodity prices, drought, reducing herd size, increasing debt and increasing interest rates. Rural agricultural communities may also have limited access to healthcare and mental health services, which can make it difficult for farm and ranch families to receive support when they are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety, depression, or another mental health crisis. The added costs of these services that insurance does not cover only adds more financial stress to already burdened ranchers. The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, the oldest cattle organization in the United States, has since 1893 continued to promote and protect the SD livestock industry which includes the people raising the livestock. We fully support Senator Mike Rounds and Tina Smith who are reintroducing legislation to expand telemental health services in rural areas. The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act would establish a grant program for health providers to expand telemental health services for those specifically in rural populations working in farming, forestry and fishing industries. We additionally thank cosponsors Senators John Thune and John Boozman.”

“Thank you to Senator Rounds for addressing the need for mental health services during these trying times for agriculture producers,” said Glenn Muller, Executive Director of South Dakota Pork Producers Council. “With the increased stress from weather, inflation, supply chain issues and increased input costs, the need for mental health support is in strong demand.  The mental health of pork producers and all individuals involved in production agriculture is a major concern of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council and having access to tele mental health care would help to address that issue.”  

“Knowing full well of the challenges farmers and ranchers face in their day-to-day lives, SDFU has been a strong advocate for telemental health care,” said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union. “Our communities across the state have faced great loss because mental health was left unaddressed. Earlier access to telemental health may have saved lives. This bill will help provide resources for farmers and ranchers, and I like to think continued advocacy will save some lives from being lost.”                                                                                                                                               

“The National Rural Health Association applauds Senators Rounds and Smith for their introduction of S. 1077, the Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act of 2023,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rural Health Association. “This important legislation creates a telemental health demonstration program designed to address specific behavioral health and substance use needs for folks in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations. This bill will increase access to behavioral health and substance use services for our most rural and medically underserved populations.”

Senators John Boozman (R- Ark.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) joined Rounds and Smith in introducing this legislation.