In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting massacre, the American Nurses Association has called on President Obama, Congress and policymakers at the state and local levels to take swift steps to prevent more “senseless” acts of violence.
“Like the rest of the nation, Americas nurses are heartbroken as we grieve the unthinkable loss and profound tragedy that unfolded last week in Newtown,” ANA President Karen A. Daley, RN, PhD, FAAN, said in a news release. “This horrific event is a tipping point and serves as a call to action.
“Our country has witnessed unspeakable acts of mass shootings. The common thread in each of these tragedies has been the lethal combination of easy access to guns and inadequate access to mental health services.”
The ANA called on policymakers to restore access to mental health services for individuals and families, increase students access to nurses and mental health professionals from the elementary school level through college, and ban assault weapons and enact other meaningful gun control reforms to protect society.
Regarding guns, the ANA noted that RNs “witness firsthand the devastation from the injuries sustained by gun violence” and “the trauma of individuals, families and communities impacted by violence.”
Regarding mental health services, “over the past decade, cutbacks within schools and community healthcare systems have seriously impeded critical and needed access to school nurses and mental health professionals trained to recognize and intervene early with those who are at-risk for violent behavior.
“The public mental health system has sustained a period of devastating cuts over time. These cuts have been exacerbated during the Great Recession despite an increase in the demand for services from all populations, including our nations veterans. States have cut vital services, such as community- and hospital-based psychiatric care, housing and access to medications. Looming budget cuts could lead to further cuts in services.”
Potential long-term cuts to Medicaid, which reportedly have been a topic of conversation in negotiations to reach a deficit-cutting deal and avoid the fiscal cliff, could affect access to mental healthcare. Medicaid underwrites services for more than 60% of people in the public mental health system, according to statistics from the Department of Health & Human Services.
If the sides do not reach a budget agreement, automatic spending cuts could mean an 8% reduction in resources for the mentally ill, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Such programs include block grants to states for mental health services and substance abuse prevention and treatment services not covered by Medicaid, and special education, supportive housing grants and mental health research.
Obama on Wednesday announced the formation of a task force, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, to find broad solutions to the issues that may contribute to mass killings. Obama cited the “need to work on making access to mental healthcare at least as easy as access to a gun” and hoped to have proposals to send to Congress within a month.