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Published: September 6, 2019


State of Tennessee

Legislative Update from

Senator Joey Hensley, MD


Mental Health and Substance Abuse


The General Assembly continued efforts during the 2019 legislative session to improve healthcare services for those suffering from mental health issues, including substance abuse.  The 2019-2020 budget provides $5 million for the state’s behavioral health safety net to serve an additional 7,000 uninsured adults with serious mental illness.  It also includes $6.2 million in increased operational costs at the state’s four regional mental health institutes and $3 million for a new Creating Homes Initiative (CHI) for regional housing facilitators, as well as additional seed money for recovery housing for those living with substance use disorder.  In addition, the budget provides $4 million in funding to implement a new transportation plan to help law enforcement with those suffering from mental illness, or serious emotional disturbance. It is important for the legislature to pass legislation that will help those who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. We passed several bills this session that continued our efforts to protect the Tennesseans who suffer from mental illness.


Transportation Plan -- Legislation was approved this year establishing a grant program to assist law enforcement agencies in developing a plan to transport individuals with mental illness or serious emotional disturbance who are picked up by police officers due to a variety of reasons, such as a mental breakdown. For many years, law enforcement officials have transported persons suffering from these conditions after they are picked up by patrol officers.  When this occurs, the officers are required to use handcuffs and shackles, put them in the back of the police car, and take them to the hospital for evaluation. Often, these officers are required to take them to another facility for treatment, which is costly for local governments and traumatic for the individual.  The new law sets up a grant program to assist law enforcement agencies required to transport persons to hospitals and treatment resources with emergency mental health needs.   It also allows law enforcement officials to elect to use telehealth services for evaluating the patient for admission to a health facility.


Telemedicine — Legislation was approved during the 2019 session improving access to mental health care services through the use of telemedicine. The new law permits mental health physicians to collaborate with advanced practice nurses and physician assistants who are employed at local community health centers, allowing them to arrange for required review of the patients charts and the required visitation via HIPAA-compliant electronic means, rather than at the site of the clinic. Telemedicine is particularly important in Tennessee’s rural communities where there is a shortage of mental health physicians.


Substance Abuse Treatment / Mental Health Parity -- Lawmakers approved a mental health parity resolution this year stating that substance use disorder and opioid use disorder are diseases and should be insured in the same manner as other diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.  It is hoped that the resolution will prompt expanded access to substance use disorder treatment options and motivate payers to reimburse specialists providing services.  At least five states and the American Medical Association have taken steps to comprehensively remove roadblocks for treatments of patients with substance use disorder and opioid use disorder. 


Suicide Prevention / College Students -- Legislation aiming to prevent suicide among college students in Tennessee passed the General Assembly in 2019.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students in the state.  The new law requires public institutions of higher education to develop and implement suicide prevention plans in consultation with campus and community mental health experts or the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN).   The state institutions will then communicate the plans to students, faculty, and staff.  TSPN is a grass-roots association which includes counselors, mental health professionals, physicians, clergy, journalists, social workers, and law enforcement personnel, as well as survivors of suicide attempts. The organization works to eliminate the stigma of suicide and educate communities about warning signs.



       You May Contact Senator Hensley at

425 5th Avenue North, Suite 746

Nashville TN 37243


Toll Free 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100

Fax 615-253-0231

855 Summertown Highway

Hohenwald TN 38462

Phone 931-796-2018

Cell Phone 931-212-8823

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.





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