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Mental Health & Higher Ed Leader Mourns Loss Of Senator Kennedy

August 30, 2009

Regis College President Cites Kennedy’s Contributions to Patients, Students and Their Families

Weston, MA. Regis College President Mary Jane England, MD, mourns the loss of Senator Edward Kennedy and calls attention to the legacy of his lifelong work in health care and education.

Dr. England cited the Senator’s belief that every American, regardless of station in life, deserves access to health care as a fundamental right not a privilege. "Senator Kennedy started working on comprehensive health care for all in the 1960’s and worked tirelessly on both sides of the aisle right up to the very end to improve the physical and mental health of all Americans. Tens of millions of Americans are in his debt," she said, adding, "His loss is incalculable."

One of Senator Kennedy’s many accomplishments was the Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Act of 1986. "Especially significant was the attention Senator Kennedy paid to mental health issues, including substantially increasing the funds available for research on mental illness," said Dr. England, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. "In 1991, Kennedy sponsored legislation to reorganize the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration. Specifically, it separated the previously combined treatment and research branches of the department, which improved the capacity to effectively address both the prevention and treatment of mental health and substance abuse."

"Personally, Senator Kennedy seemed to know everyone and what they were working on," she added, "and he would be able to speak to your particular endeavor for the common good and encourage you. Whenever I crossed paths with the Senator, for example, he would ask me about my work for children and families. As part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, and through the persistent leadership of Senator Kennedy and his friend Senator Orrin Hatch, Congress established the bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to support state efforts to provide health insurance to children in low-income families." She continued, "SCHIP meant that in combination with their own funds, states could use the federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage or establish a separate state child health insurance program. After he shepherded the landmark measure through Congress, Senator Kennedy called it, ‘the most far-reaching step that Congress has ever taken to help the nation’s children and the most far-reaching advance in health care since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid a generation ago.’"

"More recently, as I chaired the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Mental Health and Substance Use, which pursued mental health parity in health care, the Senator’s advocacy helped put our work in place so that parity could be passed. And it finally was, after twelve years of struggle, in 2008 when Senator Chris Dodd attached the stimulus bill to the parity issue. His steady work and influence helped change the environment in which the issues were discussed and understood. This past year, chairing the IOM Committee on Parental Depression and Its Effect on Children and Family Members, I felt the increased receptivity in the national environment to making changes in health care delivery. His legacy must be brought to completion in our national health care reform."

"As Regis College president, I am also deeply grateful for Senator Kennedy’s enduring and effective support of higher education. Regis has had a long and close relationship with the Senator who, among other things, has encouraged our efforts to address the workforce shortage in nursing by training nurses and nursing faculty. Senator Kennedy gave the commencement address here in 1963 when his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, received an honorary degree from Regis. Just this past year he worked faithfully during this recession to keep the federal direct student loan program strong and to provide aid to students and families so the rising generations could go to college. His efforts on behalf of students and their access to college made an impact that will be felt for their entire lives," she added, "not least through his own example of dedication to public service and to social justice, values that we at Regis College also uphold in the Catholic tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston and care for ‘the dear >neighbor.’"

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