Long-term care psychologists 'outraged' over federal plan they say omits seniors

Mental healthcare providers for the elderly expressed anger Thursday over an apparent snub of seniors’ mental health services in a proposed new federal behavioral health plan.

Adding insult to injury, they believe, is what they see as a narrow comment period, which ends Monday night.

“Frankly, this is an outrage,” Pat Latham Bach, PsyD, RN, told McKnight’s on Thursday. Bach is the president of Psychologists in Long Term Care, a network of psychologists and other professionals focused on maintaining high-quality mental health services in long-term care. “Older adults, particularly those in long-term care, have once again been marginalized and forgotten, as they too have significant need for mental health services.”

Bach said that declines in mental health among older adults are significant, given age-related changes, mood disorders, functional impairment, medical illnesses, social isolation and other factors. Depression rates among long-term care residents are estimated in the 22% to 48% range, while those with thoughts of suicide range from 11% to 43%, she added.

On July 29, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued a press release requesting comments on its 2015-18 proposed strategic plan, “Leading Change 2.0: Advancing the Behavioral Health of the Nation.”

“Unfortunately, SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde and her colleagues allowed a mere three weeks for public response and somehow forgot to mention older adults in the plan as part of the community to be served,” Bach said. “With insufficient time for public commentary, long-term care and geropsychology groups have been left in the dark, unable to serve as a voice for the all too often ‘voiceless’ seniors.

“For all friends, family members and care providers of the elderly, as well as all long-term care stakeholders, this is a call to arms,” she continued. “How many suicides of older adults in long-term care will it take to make a difference?”

Bach and fellow advocates are calling on all interested stakeholders to submit comments about the SAMHSA proposed plan before the comment period closes at midnight (Eastern Time) on Monday.

The full 34-page proposal may be downloaded from, and comments and suggestions can be left at, http://store.samhsa.gov/leadingchange/feedback/. (Interested parties also may read others’ comments at this site, the agency said in its news release, although a check Thursday did not reveal how.) Efforts to reach a SAMHSA representative late Thursday were unsuccessful.