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Mental Health Providers From Westport Discuss Challenges With Murphy

Sen. Chris Murphy sits with mental health professionals from around Fairfield County to discuss new legislation he is crafting to improve the country's mental health system.
Sen. Chris Murphy sits with mental health professionals from around Fairfield County to discuss new legislation he is crafting to improve the country's mental health system. Photo Credit: Casey Donahue

NORWALK, Conn. – U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy sat down with mental health professionals during a roundtable discussion at Norwalk Hospital on Wednesday to talk about their challenges and learn how federal legislation could make it easier to provide care for people who need help. 

Murphy, a Democrat, is working with U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., to craft a bill that would reform the nation’s mental health system. The bill is similar to one that U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., has introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

To better learn what steps need to be taken to overhaul the system and provide better care, Murphy has been meeting with mental health professional around the state and learning about some of their challenges and hearing their recommendations.

The discussion involved about 25 people from organizations around the county, including the Human Services Council, Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk Community Health Center, Soundview Medical Associates, the Westport Weston Health District, Southwest Regional Mental Health Board, Family and Children’s Agency, and Bridge House in Bridgeport.

“I’m in such admiration of everyone sitting around this table is that you’re making the system work despite the system,” Murphy said. “We’re not going to fix all of this in one piece of legislation, but we can at least identify the biggest problems, start to paint some paths to a better system.”

Murphy said that he has seen many common themes as he traveled across the state. Among these are capacity issues in both inpatient and outpatient facilities, communication between mental health and physical health professionals, recognizing how other factors such as housing can play a role in wellness, getting families involved in care. He said that compartmentalization is a huge problem, as can be seen in the medical files of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza.

“All the people around this table who are doing wonderful things are doing them in compartments. If you read the Adam Lanza report from the Office of the Child Advocate, you see the results of a very fragmented system," Murphy said.

"This was a young man whose primary care doctor had no notes in his file on his behavioral health issues for a period of years because somebody else was dealing with that. Nobody was really sure whether the school system was in charge, whether his primary care physician was in charge, whether the community mental health system was in charge, and we’ve got to create a system whereby we uncompartmentalize behavioral healthcare and we recognize some clear lines of accountability.”

Among the topics discussed were the need to involve patients in the discussion, the lack of step-down programs and breaks in the care continuum where people fall out, coordination of care for those in need, treatment of top utilizers of care, and the need to tailor care for individuals and treat them in a way that will work best for them.

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