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Sunday, April 7, 2024

R.I. Senate votes to continue pediatric mental health hotline funding

Charlestown Sen. Elaine Morgan (R-MAGA) did not vote - Charlestown Sen. Victoria Gu (D) voted YES

By Alexander Castro, Rhode Island Current

Morgan might have voted yes if the bill included arming
the moms and kids with guns
A statewide telephone hotline that helps mothers and children more easily access psychiatric care is one step closer to permanent funding with the Rhode Island Senate’s passage of a bill on Thursday, March 28.

This is the second consecutive year the Senate passed legislation by Narragansett Democrat Sen. Alana DiMario that would stabilize a new funding source for the state’s Psychiatric Resource Network.

This year’s version, introduced by DiMario and co-sponsored by nine other Democrat senators, would dedicate state funding to two psychiatric hotlines: RI MomsPRN, designed for pregnant/postpartum women, and PediPRN, which is for children. 

The programs help patients in these populations access psychiatric and mental health care through their OBGYNs or pediatricians, circumventing the often long and troublesome process of getting referred to a mental health specialist.

“Once the MomsPRN program launched, it meant that a postpartum person seeing their trusted provider could leave from that first appointment with resources for therapy as well as a prescription that could start providing immediate relief,” said DiMario in a statement. 

“The launching of this program was like a light turning on for so many women who previously were sitting alone in the dark.”

The Resource Network funding is set to expire at the end of this year, according to a legislature press release. The Rhode Island Department of Health has, however, secured funding for PediPRN through the end of September 2026, thanks to a grant the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

On the Senate floor, DiMario, who works as a licensed mental health counselor, explained the programs have been grant funded until now, and the continuation of the programs will be paid for by a small assessment on private health insurers. The funds would then go into a restricted account within the general fund. As written, the bill is set to take effect on July 1, 2024.

The bill passed with 33 affirmative votes. Three senators — Sen. Elaine Morgan, Sen. Leonidas P.  Raptakis and Sen. Gordon E. Rogers — did not vote.

The bill now moves to the House, the same place it stalled last year, in the Finance Committee. The House’s own version of the bill — introduced on Jan. 17, 2024, by Mary Ann Shallcross Smith, a Lincoln Democrat — remains unscheduled for a hearing. 

Rhode Island Current is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Rhode Island Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janine L. Weisman for questions: Follow Rhode Island Current on Facebook and Twitter.