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Brindisi Advocates for Expansion of Rural Mental Health Care and Addiction Treatment, Brings Upstate Experts to National Stage for Roundtable Discussion

Congressman Anthony Brindisi, co-Chair of the House Blue Dog Coalition, moderated a virtual Rural Opportunity Roundtable discussion on mental health care and addiction treatment. Brindisi continued his work to bring Upstate voices to the national stage, inviting Cassandra Sheets, CEO of the Center for Family Life and Recovery, and Keith Leahey, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier, to share their perspectives with national stakeholders, policy makers, and members of Congress.

From 1999 to 2016, suicide rates grew in nearly all 50 states. New York’s 22nd Congressional District has a higher rate of suicide than the state average. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate is 45 percent higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

“Access to affordable mental health care should not vary from zip code to zip code. Rural Upstate New Yorkers know that firsthand, and that’s why I invited Cassandra and Keith to speak about the importance of rural mental health care at our roundtable,” said Brindisi. “The lack of access to mental health care and addiction medicine for rural communities like ours is a life or death issue and there is an urgent need to expand access to care in Upstate New York. Discussions like today’s help us raise awareness and will impel more policy makers to take substantive action to connect struggling rural Americans with support when they need it most. I’m working every day to ensure Upstate New Yorkers have a seat at the table, and I will keep working to bring their voices to Washington.”

“Thank you to Congressman Brindisi for inviting me to participate in this discussion on the importance of mental health care in rural communities. Nobody should feel that they have to face mental illness alone. Discussions like this one help us spread the word about our work to enhance the lives of all our community members and connect them to the mental health care they need. It’s reassuring to know rural Upstate New Yorkers have an ally in Congressman Brindisi, and I was honored to share their stories during our roundtable,” said Keith Leahey, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier.

“The challenges of infrastructure, transportation, and access to health services are just as prevalent here in Oneida County as any part of rural America, and I’m hopeful that our discussion will drive solutions for folks struggling with mental health and addiction in our community. I want to thank Congressman Brindisi for sharing his platform and helping us bring attention to these important issues. It’s great to know we have him fighting for Upstate every day,” said Cassandra Sheets, CEO of the Center for Family Life and Recovery.

Brindisi, a champion for rural communities across New York’s 22nd District and an unwavering advocate for access to mental health care, has introduced multiple pieces of bipartisan legislation to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, strengthen our mental health care system, and expand access to care for rural communities. Most recently, his Access for Rural Communities (ARC) Act and Seeding Rural Resilience Act passed the House. Both bipartisan bills would target the health care needs of rural communities and help more Upstate New Yorkers access the care they need.

In 2019, President Trump signed Brindisi’s bipartisan Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act into law, and in July 2020 Brindisi introduced his bipartisan Access to Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act to build on the progress of the first bill. Brindisi also introduced a bipartisan resolution to recognize addiction as a disease and ensure communities have the necessary tools to help those battling substance use disorders.

“I say it all the time: Washington could learn a lot from Upstate New York. I’m thankful for the opportunity we had to move the conversation forward and find ways to work together on both the local and national level to help rural Americans who are living with mental health conditions,” said Brindisi.

To view the entire discussion, click HERE.


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