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A National Plan for Rural Health

What is the National Plan for Rural Behavioral Health?

The New Freedom Commission called for immediate and profound changes, to build a mental health care system that is both consumer and family driven and focused on recovery and resilience – a transformation that involves consumers, families and providers, policymakers at all levels of government, and both the public and private sectors. The Federal government, in partnership with States, communities, consumers, families, youth and the private sector, is responding. Soon after the release of the Commission's final report in 2003, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) charged the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) with leading efforts to transform the mental health system in this country. SAMHSA organized an unprecedented, collaborative effort among more than 20 Federal agencies and offices to help ensure that people with mental and substance use disorders have every opportunity for recovery.

This alliance of Federal partners has continued to expand. Their work led to the creation of a specific and affirmative agenda for the initial Federal response to the charge for wholesale transformation of the mental health system. "Transforming Mental Health Care in America: The Federal Action Agenda", released in 2005, is both a vision and a plan. Included in this vision and plan is a specific action step for the development of a National Plan for Rural Mental Health.

The commitment of SAMHSA and its partners to the needs of children and families living in rural America led to the development of strategic action planning, guided by federal and national partners. An Intradepartmental Rural Behavioral Health Workgroup was created to guide this work and to oversee the implementation of activities to improve access to, increase availability of, and increase the acceptability of mental health/behavioral health services and supports in rural America.

Based upon the work of several workgroups starting in November 2005 including federal and national expert meetings, the Intradepartmental Rural Behavioral Health Workgroup determined that there were some areas that were critical themes for consideration and that the most effective strategy for implementation was to use a multi-tiered approach by a) infuse rural issues into the agenda of existing working groups where appropriate; b) identify a priority activities for focus that have not been addressed by existing workgroups, c) provide expertise and support to existing workgroups especially the five ongoing workgroups of the Federal Partners Senior Workgroup in the area of rural and frontier behavioral health, d) work in collaboration with other rural workgroups and advisories to increase visibility of rural and frontier issues and solutions, and priority activities,

The work is focused in the following areas:

  1. Public Health Approaches to mental and behavioral health are implemented in rural and frontier areas.
  2. Research informs policy and practice regarding rural mental health/behavioral health services and supports.
  3. Disparities in financing behavioral health services and supports are reduced or eliminated in rural and frontier areas.
  4. Behavioral health and primary health care services and systems are integrated in rural and frontier areas.
  5. Recruitment, retention and the provision of a quality professional work environment results in a stable, highly qualified, culturally and linguistically competent behavioral health workforce in rural and frontier areas.
  6. Consumers, families and youth are employed as part of the mental and behavioral health workforce within rural and frontier communities.
  7. Children, youth and their families and consumers across the lifespan have access to a full continuum of quality mental and behavioral health services and supports within the community that are culturally and linguistically acceptable.

The 2007 accomplishments and work plan focus on activities to:

  • Infuse rural agenda priorities into key activities of Federal Partners Senior Workgroup and its workgroups and activities.
  • Provide expertise on rural behavioral health issues to federal agencies
  • Participate on SAMHSA Matrix Workgroups to leverage rural priorities
  • Disseminate knowledge and information on innovations regarding workforce development in rural and frontier areas.
  • Foster development of rural consumer, family and youth voice to inform federal and national policy
  • Develop linkages to increase visibility of rural needs and strengths.
  • Identify gaps in existing resources and provide expertise to inform strategies to address them.
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