Health and Human Services Committee Addresses Mental Health, Prescription Drug Coverage for Seniors and Aids in Africa
By Crystal Swann
Beaumont Mayor David Moore, Chair of The U.S. Conference of Mayors Health and Human Services Committee, convened the 68th meeting of the committee during the Annual Winter Meeting in January. The committee heard from Dr. Thomas Bornemann, Assistant Surgeon General and Deputy Director, National Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on mental health services in their communities and the impact of the recently released Surgeon General’s report on mental health. United States Representative Juanita Millender-McDonald (CA), Co-Chair, International HIV/AIDS Task Force discussed a new initiative on confronting AIDS in Africa.
Mental Health and the Surgeon General’s Report
Dr. Bornemann, armed with the “Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health”, delivered some startling statistics on mental illness in the United States and worldwide. Among them were:
Dr. Bornemann stressed that at all levels of severity, mental and emotional disorders can affect school performance, employment, physical health, family structure, housing and quality of life. Stigma, and its accompanying discrimination, was identified as the greatest barrier to addressing mental health in communities. Mayor Moore stated that the Mayors are committed to working with SAMHSA and the CMHS to erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness, ensuring equal access to treatment and service and increasing the availability of services for everyone.
During the discussion, Boston Mayor Menino inquired on the federal resources available at the local level to help Mayors address mental illness specifically in the homeless population and youth. Dr. Bornemann highlighted two programs within CMHS:
The Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) formula grant program was highlighted as one program that provides funds to support services to individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless and have serious mental illnesses. The funds are distributed to the states which then contract with political subdivisions and/or local nonprofit organizations to provide a broad array of services, including outreach, mental health treatment, support services, and a limited set of housing services. Federal PATH dollars, along with State and local matching funds, have been a significant resource for serving homeless people who have serious mental illnesses.
The Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative: urban, rural, suburban and tribal school districts receive support to help link community-based services and prevention activities into one community wide approach to violence prevention and healthy child development — including promoting children’s skills to show self-control and rebuff the use of violence or aggression.
Mayor Menino also pointed out that the Surgeon General’s report fails to substantive discuss the prevalence of substance abuse among the more severely mentally ill.
Prescription Drug Coverage for Seniors on Medicare
As the meeting moved on, the Committee discussed and adopted, unanimously, an emergency resolution submitted by Mayor Menino, affirming the extreme importance of addressing and identifying comprehensive solutions to reducing the costs and expanding the coverage of prescription drugs for seniors. The text of the resolution is found on page 19.
AIDS in Africa
As the meeting progressed, the topic shifted to international health concerns as the Mayors were joined by Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (CA), who spoke with the Mayors about a new initiative, The African Mayors’ Initiative for Community Action on AIDS at the Local Level (AMICAALL) which was begun by The Alliance in Africa, a group of mayors and municipal leaders of 17 cities in 11 African countries.
explained, “70% of the global total of HIV-positive people live in
Africa, most of whom will die in the next 10 years. Quite simply, the
HIV/AIDS epidemic is poised to dwarf every other catastrophe in
Africa’s recorded history.” She continued to by stating,
“AMICAALL’s strategy is to strengthen the capacity of local
governments and political leaders to save their communities, which
requires international and national support on a grand scale. The
rubber hits the road in cities and towns across the African
Among AMICAALL’s programmatic goals, enhanced management capacity and effective collaboration and communication, are the two areas in which Rep. Millender-McDonald hopes the nation’s Mayors can be of assistance. “African Mayors have risen to a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Like you in your cities, they are having to grapple with the realities – not just the statistics – of HIV/AIDS,” she said. Mayor Moore concluded by re-stating the Mayors commitment to working with the Congresswoman on this very important issue.
The Committee on Health and Human Services meets again during the Conference’s Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington.