06.08.21

HELP Chair Murray Urges Confirmation for Public Health Preparedness, Mental Health Nominees

At hearing, Senator Murray highlights the clear qualifications of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response nominee Dawn O’Connell and Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use nominee Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon

 

Murray: “Given the critical work both ASPR and SAMHSA have ahead, we must make sure each agency has a strong, experienced leader.

 

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

 

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, urged her colleagues to support the nominations of Dawn O’Connell to serve as Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon to serve as Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use at HHS. Senator Murray highlighted the importance of confirming strong, experienced leaders, to head the critical work at both the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in order to strengthen our nation’s public health infrastructure and address health challenges like substance use disorders and mental illness.  

 

“Given the critical work both ASPR and SAMHSA have ahead, we must make sure each agency has a strong, experienced leader. Which is why I’m looking forward to hearing from today’s nominees, both of whom are well qualified for their roles,” Senator Murray said in her opening remarks. “And while today we are considering two nominees to help lead us forward through the end of this crisis, we absolutely must look back, examine our failures and successes in managing this pandemic, and make sure we improve our nation’s public health and preparedness infrastructure so that we are better prepared to handle the next public health crisis.”

 

During her opening remarks, Senator Murray commended Dawn O’Connell’s leadership as the previous Director of The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations’ U.S. office, and her instrumental work at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Obama Administration where she tackled the public health emergencies of the Zika and Ebola crises—similar to the work being done to fight the COVID-19 virus. Senator Murray also commended Dr. Delphin-Rittmon’s accomplishments as the Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services since 2015 and her previous service as a Senior Advisor at SAMHSA—the agency she is now nominated to lead.

 

Given the critical work of ASPR and SAMHSA during health crises like the COVID pandemic, Senator Murray also continued to stress the importance of improving our public health preparedness, addressing the worsening mental health and substance use crises, and targeting the health disparities that disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color.

 

“We must look at how to ensure our public health and medical systems have sufficient capacity to provide services to those most at-risk, improve and secure the supply chain for critical medical supplies, tackle the health disparities that impact so many of our communities, and strengthen the nation’s public health infrastructure and medical preparedness and response programs at every level”, continued Senator Murray.

 

Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

 

“The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response—ASPR—and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—SAMHSA—do critical, lifesaving work.

 

“ASPR is charged with protecting families across the country from health security threats, like natural disasters, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents, and—pandemics.

 

“Meanwhile SAMHSA leads efforts to advance behavioral health, and reduce the impact of substance use disorders and mental illness.

 

“These have always been critical missions—but the COVID-19 pandemic has put both ASPR and SAMHSA in the spotlight and their work has been more critical than ever.

 

“ASPR has been on the frontlines of this crisis, facing challenges like how to manage and replenish the strategic national stockpile—which provides critical resources to states for needs such as personal protective equipment, and materials needed for testing, treatment, and vaccinations.

 

“ASPR also oversees BARDA—the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

 

“Over the past year, Congress provided BARDA funding through our COVID relief bills to purchase vaccines, and work with Federal and private industry partners to develop lifesaving medical countermeasures such as diagnostic tests, therapeutics, and, of course, safe, effective vaccines.

 

“As we’ve seen throughout this pandemic—ASPR’s work can directly effect the health and safety of American families and workers.

 

“It impacts whether communities are able to do adequate testing to prevent and respond to outbreaks, whether hospitals have equipment to treat people safely, and whether people across the country are able to get safe, effective vaccines.

 

“And, while SAMHSA was already tackling its own set of challenges before this pandemic struck, including an opioid epidemic that has ravaged communities, and a suicide rate that has climbed for several years.

 

“COVID-19 has seen these crises become even worse.

 

“Half of adults in our country say the stress and worry of this pandemic has impacted their mental wellbeing.

 

“Hospitals across my state—from Seattle, to Spokane, to Tacoma—have reported higher rates of mental health emergencies for youth.

 

“And last year, we saw a record number of deaths from substance use disorders.

 

“Given the critical work both ASPR and SAMHSA have ahead, we must make sure each agency has a strong, experienced leader.

 

“Which is why I’m looking forward to hearing from today’s nominees, both of whom are well qualified for their roles. 

 

“As a member of HHS leadership during the Obama Administration, Ms. O’Connell managed the Department’s response to past public health emergencies, like Zika and Ebola.

 

“And before returning to the Department under President Biden as Senior Counselor to the Secretary for the COVID-19 response, she was Director of the U.S. office of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations—a global partnership that works to accelerate vaccine development, ensure equitable access, and jumpstart research to prevent future epidemics.

 

“Meanwhile, Dr. Delphin-Rittmon, has served as the Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services since 2015.

 

“She also previously served as a Senior Advisor at SAMHSA—the agency she is now nominated to lead.

 

“Before her time at SAMHSA, she spent over a decade at Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, where she has served as Director of the Office of Multicultural Health Equity, Senior Policy Advisor, and Deputy Commissioner,

 

“And while today we are considering two nominees to help lead us forward through the end of this crisis, we absolutely must look back, examine our failures and successes in managing this pandemic, and make sure we improve our nation’s public health and preparedness infrastructure so that we are better prepared to handle the next public health crisis.

 

“I look forward to having hearings in the months ahead as Senator Burr and I work to craft bipartisan legislation related to that effort.

 

“We must look at how to ensure our public health and medical systems have sufficient capacity to provide services to those most at-risk, improve and secure the supply chain for critical medical supplies, tackle the health disparities that impact so many of our communities, and strengthen the nation’s public health infrastructure and medical preparedness and response programs at every level.”


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