At a hearing Thursday of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the chief executive officer of Centerstone in Tennessee testified that an initiative Ranking Member Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tn.) launched in Tennessee as governor 30 years ago was an example of how education and mental health systems can work together “for the sole purpose of addressing our health care crisis.”
The hearing on mental health was the first for which Senator Alexander served as ranking member. He asked the witnesses, “Are we [the federal government] putting up any roadblocks that make it harder to provide services?” and requested “specific suggestions on laws, regulations, and practices that we ought to change.”
Dr. Robert Vero, the chief executive officer of Tennessee’s Centerstone, one of the nation’s largest operators of not-for-profit community mental health centers, said, “When you were governor of Tennessee, we built out a statewide therapeutic preschool program. We had therapeutic preschools in every one of the community mental health centers across all 95 counties. Those schools were there to deal with the most vulnerable children with whom we were seeing early indications of the onset of severe mental illnesses.”
Dr. Vero said that very few of those programs exist today because the model is unaffordable. Dr. Vero asked that at the federal level, “let’s remove these barriers that oftentimes don’t allow us to bring our systems together—education, criminal justice, mental health—in a cooperative way for the sole purpose of addressing our health care crisis. We’ve spent too long arguing over which part of the day education should pay for versus which part of the day a managed care company or Medicaid should be paying for.”
Senator Alexander told Dr. Vero he would work on ways to encourage collaboration between the mental health care and education systems to support the care of children.