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Sen. Igisomar introduces mental health bills

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THE Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Welfare convened on Tuesday morning to discuss several bills, including three centered on mental health and authored by the committee vice chairman, Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar.

Senate Bill 21-35 intends to “establish an advanced mental health directive and assisted outpatient treatment for patients in the CNMI,” while S.B. 21-36 proposes “to establish the Department of Corrections Residential Mental Health Unit.”

A third bill, S.B. 21-39, will “establish incompetency determination and guardianship proceedings.”

Igisomar said although the Commonwealth has nonprofit organizations and government agencies that provide assistance and support for mental health patients, “there are always gaps. There are things that you can only see or feel if you were actually there.”

He said he took care of a sibling who suffers from schizophrenia so he understands how difficult it can be to adequately assist those with mental illnesses.

 

Members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Welfare met in the Senate chamber on Tuesday. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol 

“I figured, we got to look into ways to assist these people, but it is a lot more complex than I thought,” he said, adding that there have been ongoing discussions on how to construct sufficient mental health policies in the CNMI due to the complexity of mental illnesses.

“If you notice, the bills are complex. There are a lot more pages [than your average bill] because we are trying to cover everything. We want to make sure that we take care of all of the ‘fine-tuning’ so that when it goes to the House, it is a little better,” he added.

He said the bills received positive feedback from the Office of the Attorney General, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation, and the Department of Corrections.

As for funding his proposed mental health services, he said it may require millions of dollars.

“I understand the [current] budget cuts. I truly understand the predicament we are in in the CNMI. We have so many needs, but even in a good economy, we don’t have enough money. I am truly aware of that. However, your priorities will never be a priority if it is not written, so I am trying to [move forward] in that aspect,” Igisomar said.

He added, “It’s going to cost money, but we will push it. If it dies at the governor’s office or in the House, then when the next legislators come in, they can review all the bills that have been written and are on file, and from there, pull them out and recycle them.”

Also present for the committee meeting on Tuesday were the chairman, Senate Floor Leader Justo Quitugua, Sen. Francisco Cruz, and Sen. Vinnie Sablan.

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