05.05.22

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

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) led a bipartisan group of senators in 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. Additional cosponsors include Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.).

“Those living in rural areas may live far away from 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 during a difficult period for our farmers and ranchers, who for years have suffered economically due to challenging weather, trade disputes and price disparities.”

“Now—especially as our nation continues dealing with a pandemic—we need to help rural America overcome the unique obstacles that small towns and rural communities face in providing mental health,” 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 and burnout caused by the pandemic, difficult weather, low commodity prices and more. It’s important that they get the services they need during this uncertain time.”

The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act is supported by the South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations, South Dakota Farmers Union, National Farmers Union, National Rural Health Association, Sanford Health, Avera Health and Monument Health.

This legislation would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting through the Director of the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth of the Health Resources and Services Administration, in coordination with the Rural Health Liaison of the Department of Agriculture, to award grants to entities to establish demonstration projects for the provision of telemental health services for rural populations, specifically those working in the farming, fishing and forestry occupations. It would authorize up to $10 million for each fiscal year through 2026, using current funds.

“Farmers across the state are suffering from drought, labor shortages and price disparities,” said Scott VanderWal, President of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. “The demands of farming, especially during this time of the year, make it difficult for farmers to seek care. The Home-Based Telemental Health Care Act works to provide farmers in rural communities with accessible, quality mental health services. I thank Senators Rounds and Smith for their leadership in addressing the well-being of our rural communities.”

“We thank Senator Rounds for introducing Senate Bill 3937 to bring telemental health services to our rural communities and to study the impact of receiving this service in the home rather than traditional in-person physician offices,” said Tim Rave, President and CEO of South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations. “Mental health care needs are not being met in rural areas today so we look forward to supporting this initiative for individuals in farming, fishing and forestry.

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.”

“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.”

“Avera has seen the benefit of being able to provide telehealth directly to patients where they are during the course of the pandemic. Given our vastly rural footprint and the challenges so many in our area continue to face, we are appreciative of this legislation – and know it will help to ensure care is provided to those who need it, when and where they need it,” said Dr. Matthew Stanley, Avera psychiatrist and Clinical Vice President of the Avera Behavioral Health Service Line.

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