June 01, 2021

Cortez Masto & Cornyn Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Overhaul Nationwide Mental Health Crisis Response

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to dramatically expand behavioral health crisis services in Nevada and across the country. Current national standards for addressing mental health crises are woefully inadequate. As a result, law enforcement and emergency medical personnel who are not trained to deal with behavioral health crises often serve as first responders. The Behavioral Health Crisis Services Expansion Act would overhaul our nation’s current approach to responding to mental health crises by expanding the availability of behavioral health crisis services, including robust mobile crisis and 24/7 crisis stabilization services, and by providing coverage of these services for patients no matter where they get their health insurance.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that in February, more than 41% of Nevadans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, yet 2.4 million people in the state live in areas that do not have enough mental health professionals and lack services to respond to serious behavioral health crises. Cortez Masto’s legislation will provide communities with the resources and guidance to respond to behavioral health crises in the same way they respond to other physical medical emergencies—with prompt, appropriate and high-quality care.

“We’ve got to change the way that our country deals with mental health. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, you should be able to get easy and reliable help from trained behavioral health providers,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “My bipartisan legislation would completely overhaul the way that we respond to behavioral health crises, lifting the burden from law enforcement agencies and providing communities with the resources and guidance they need to develop comprehensive behavioral health crisis services, from crisis hotlines to behavioral health urgent care facilities. Plenty of these programs have already proven successful in small-scale operations across the country, and it is past time that we expand this level of care to everyone, no matter what their diagnosis, where they live, or what kind of health insurance they have.”

“Mental health should always be taken seriously, and after over a year spent largely in our homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, taking care of ourselves and others is more important than ever,” said Senator Cornyn. “Increasing Texans’ access to mental health services and resources is a crucial first step, and I’m proud to be joined by Sen. Cortez Masto in authoring this critical legislation that will do just that.”

Senator Cortez Masto’s Behavioral Health Crisis Services Expansion Act aims to create a continuum of behavioral health crisis services through the nationwide adoption of programs and services that stabilize patients in crisis and direct them to the most appropriate treatment options. Specifically, this legislation will:

  • Direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure that the national definition of behavioral health crisis care includes universally available:
    • 24/7 crisis hotlines and call centers
    • Mobile crisis services
    • Behavioral health urgent care facilities
    • 23-hour crisis stabilization and observation beds
    • Short-term crisis residential options.
  • Provide coverage of behavioral health crisis services for all patients no matter where they get their health insurance.
  • Provide funding for the development of crisis services in communities across the country.
    • This grant program would include technical guidance provided by HHS and a database for communities to share successful ideas and services.
  • Establish a panel of experts to improve coordination among 911 dispatchers and 988 crisis hotline call centers, so that those in need are quickly connected to the appropriate service.

The bill text for S.1902 can be found here. A background page and a section-by-section of the legislation can also be found on Senator Cortez Masto's website. 

Cortez Masto is a leader in the Senate in advocating for solutions to mental health needs. She helped pass the CAHOOTS Act as part of the American Rescue Plan to improve the emergency response to mental health challenges with mobile crisis response teams. She’s also leading legislation specifically to help students and other groups experiencing heightened challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.