Local lawmakers back bill changing mental-health treatment

Posted: July 18, 2014

To a teen, everything - from a breakup to a bad grade - can be the end of the world.

That's why, said Rep. Tim Murphy (R., Allegheny), the age at which mentally ill children can choose whether they should have treatment should be raised. In Pennsylvania, that so-called age of maturity is 14 - "absurd," Murphy said.

That is just one of many parts of a "broken" system that Murphy, a clinical psychologist, wants to fix with his federal mental-health-treatment bill. Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Bucks) and Patrick Meehan (R., Delaware) are among the bill's nearly 100 cosponsors.

Fitzpatrick and Murphy held a telephone conference call Wednesday with Bucks County Commissioner Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia to discuss the bill, which would make it easier for parents to get their children treatment before the child posed a danger.

"Individuals and families deserve a support system that empowers parents and families," Fitzpatrick said.

If someone was not aware they had had a stroke or was unconscious after a car accident, Murphy said, they would be treated without consent.

"We've got to treat mental illness like other medical illnesses," he said. "Just because someone's eyes are open and they're talking to you doesn't mean they are aware of their problems."

The bill would also allow parents to have greater access to information about their child's mental health. HIPPA and FERPA laws sometimes prevent parents from receiving a child's health information.

Members of the Bucks County Suicide Task Force were also on the call Wednesday, and they asked questions of the congressmen. Marseglia, head of the task force and a mother whose daughter committed suicide, wanted to know what her members could do to help ensure the bill's passage. The task force, she said, is one of the bill's "cheerleaders."

Not everyone offered praise. Officials from the Mental Health Association of Pennsylvania and its local counterpart said they opposed the bill, criticizing it for stripping adult mentally ill patients of their rights and for decreasing funding for PAIMI, federally funded patient-advocacy programs for the mentally ill.

"To think that this bill could decimate PAIMI funding is very frightening to us," said Jacob Bowling, director of advocacy and policy for the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Without PAIMI advocates, Bowling said, mentally ill patients in facilities could not report abuse or neglect.

Murphy said he supported PAIMI when the money was used ethically.

He takes issue, he said, "when they are involved in going against doctors' orders."

There was a case in Maine - "not an isolated case," Murphy said - in which advocates reportedly coached William Bruce, 24, a schizophrenic in an inpatient-treatment facility, to say he was not suicidal or homicidal. Advocates fought for Bruce's right to refuse treatment. Bruce was allowed to return home, against doctors' order.

Two months after his release, in June 2006, Bruce murdered his mother with a hatchet.

"They have no business, no business at all, being involved in treatment decisions," Murphy said of advocacy groups. "It's morally reprehensible. I'm not going to stand for it. It's not something I hear PAIMI taking responsibility for."

Murphy's bill has had subcommittee hearings, and the congressmen are looking to see which parts could be passed by the end of the year.

The bill is comprehensive, Murphy said, and he is not willing to cut large portions just so the entire bill can pass at one time.

Murphy said he was in a hurry because, while the bill sits, "there will be another tragedy."


emccarthy@phillynews.com

610-313-8105

@ErinMcPSU

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