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National Association of Counties Member Briefs Senate Staff on County Use of Behavioral Health Information Technology to Improve Health Outcomes

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On July 22, Salt Lake County, Utah, Mayor Ben McAdams opened a congressional staff briefing on behavioral health information technology. Using Salt Lake County as an example, McAdams discussed how counties can use health information technology in their behavioral health and substance abuse programs and how increased federal funding for behavioral health information technology could further improve health outcomes and save local taxpayers money.

McAdams highlighted Salt Lake County's commitment to the overall health and wellbeing of its residents, including the provision of medical services for county jail inmates and county behavioral health services. He also described how the county was an early adopter of low-cost open source behavioral health information technology which is also interoperable between the county's behavioral health providers. Lastly, McAdams stressed the need to take the next big step towards integrating the behavioral health system with medical and surgical health care, by promoting widespread meaningful use of interoperable electronic health records (EHRs).

More than 750 county behavioral health authorities provide mental health services to those most in need, many of whom who have co-occurring mental and physical health conditions. Funding for EHRs for behavioral health providers is necessary to improve care coordination and save counties money. The 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act excluded such providers from specific categories of incentive fund eligibility. NACo supports bipartisan efforts to expand access to the HITECH Act's incentives to behavioral health providers. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have introduced measures (S. 1517 and S. 1685, respectively) that would allow key providers of behavioral health and substance abuse services like county behavioral authorities to receive incentive funding to implement EHRs. These are just two of five pieces of legislation introduced in the 113th Congress that would extend the HITECH Act's incentives to behavioral health providers.

The briefing was sponsored by Senators Whitehouse and Portman and the Behavioral Health Information Technology Coalition, of which NACo is a member. Other panelists included Dr. Joseph Cvitkovic, Director of Behavioral Health Care for Jefferson Hospital-Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, Pa., Ginger Bandeen, Quality Improvement Manager for Columbia Community Mental Health Center in St. Helen, Ore., and Chris Wolf, Chief Operating Officer of ViaQuest, Inc.

NACo Resources on Mental Health I f you have questions or need assistance, contact Paul Beddoe at pbeddoe@naco.org or 202.942.4234

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