National Association of Counties Announces Commission on Mental Health and Wellbeing

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New initiative brings together county leaders to drive action on nation’s mental health crisis

WASHINGTON – The National Association of Counties (NACo) today announced a new Commission on Mental Health and Wellbeing, bringing together 14 county leaders from across the country. The group, unveiled at NACo’s Legislative Conference, is tasked with leading the development of policy and programmatic recommendations at the federal, state, and local levels to address systemic issues contributing to the ever-growing mental health crisis.  

“America’s county leaders demand a rethinking – a reimagination – of how we advance the mental health and well-being of our families and neighbors, especially those without adequate access to care and treatment,” said NACo President Denise Winfrey. “This commission will drive collaboration and innovation across all sectors, from our intergovernmental partners to the private sector, from think tanks to practitioners.” 

Counties are well-positioned to lead action on the mental health crisis because counties play an integral role in local health, justice and human services systems. Direct mental health service delivery responsibilities are falling increasingly to America’s counties, who serve as the nation’s safety net for residents in need, act as first responders, operate crisis lines, and manage public hospitals and detention centers.  

“To effect lasting change in our behavioral health system, we need legislative fixes at the federal level,” said Kathryn Barger, Commission Co-Chair and County Supervisor, Los Angeles County, Calif. “Lifting the federal bed limit on our mental health treatment facilities and securing additional behavioral health resources has been one of my top priorities since taking office, and I’m grateful for NACo’s partnership and leadership in this effort.” 

By advancing county policy priorities around mental health, showcasing effective community strategies, and elevating county voices, the commission will: 

  • Stimulate a national sense of urgency through an intergovernmental partnership framework connecting the local, state, and federal levels; 
  • Elevate national awareness around the challenges and the innovations associated with mental health through the county lens; 
  • Pursue federal policy action, including full implementation of the Mental Health Parity standard, reforms to the IMD prohibition, repealing the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy for pre-trial detainees, and building the mental health workforce and continuum of care for the future; and 
  • Lead a cohesive, intergovernmental strategy to enhanced the mental health and wellbeing of all Americans, with a special focus on the most vulnerable populations. 

“From small rural counties to large metro regions, mental health is a critical issue in every community across our nation. It’s also an intersectional issue – if you care about homelessness, if you care about public safety, if you care about the well-being of families and the future of our children – you must invest in mental health,” said Commission Co-Chair Dow Constantine, County Executive for King County, Wash. “From the unique perspective of counties, providing core services to every family and community in this nation, the commission will share what’s working and collaborate with those who are striving to develop a robust and nation-wide response to this crisis.” 

For more information about NACo’s Commission on Mental Health and Wellbeing, click here.