Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz has been nominated by the President to serve as the first assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse at the Department of Health and Human Services. The position was created with the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act last November to elevate the status and relevance of SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.
Dr. McCance-Katz was previously the chief medical director for SAMHSA. After she departed from SAMHSA in 2015, Dr. McCance-Katz wrote a commentary in Psychiatric Times that criticized the federal government's approach to treating patients with serious mental illness. "SAMHSA does not address the treatment needs of the most vulnerable in our society," she wrote. "Rather, the unit within SAMHSA charged with addressing these disorders, the Center for Mental Health Services, chooses to focus on its own definition of 'recovery,' which generally ignores the treatment of mental disorders, and, as a major initiative under 'recovery' services, focuses on the development of a 'peer workforce.'"
Congressman Chris Murphy (R-PA), who helped author the bill that created the new assistant secretary post, criticized the nomination. “I am stunned the president put forth a nominee who served in a key post at SAMHSA under the previous administration when the agency was actively opposing the transformative changes in” the 21st Century Cures ACT. The old regime at SAMHSA was incapable and unwilling to work with me and my colleagues in Congress to deliver the transformative changes needed. She was the key medical leader when the agency actively lobbied against any change or accountability including when the Energy and Commerce Committee — indeed the entire Congress — was aiming to fix our nation’s broken mental health system,” Mr. Murphy wrote in a statement.
Dr. McCance-Katz is currently Chief Medical Officer of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare and Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University. Throughout her career Dr. McCance-Katz has conducted extensive research on substance abuse including opioid addiction. She is expected to be approved by the Senate.