Mental Health Policy: Staff Briefs Legislative Committees on Workforce Shortages
June 1, 2008
A critical shortage of mental health professionals in Texas is reducing residents' access to effective treatment today and is likely to worsen in the future, the foundation has reported to the Texas Legislature.
The foundation submitted a policy brief in May to a Senate interim committee studying health workforce issues in Texas. Program Officer Debbie Berndt was invited to testify on the issue in June by a House interim committee also studying health workforce issues in Texas.
The foundation's analysis found that most counties in Texas don't have enough mental health care professionals to adequately serve their residents, especially in disadvantaged urban areas and rural and border regions. The problem is compounded by the need for racially, culturally and linguistically diverse mental health professionals who reflect the makeup of the state's population.
Leaders of state agencies and community health care organizations report extensive problems in recruiting and retaining mental health workers. The shortage is likely to deepen in the future as an aging workforce begins to retire unless steps are taken now to build workforce capacity.
The interim committees likely will issue reports later this fall with recommendations for the upcoming legislative session that begins in January 2009. In her testimony Berndt identified several potential legislative options to increase the state's mental health workforce:
- Ensure that financial incentives such as loan repayment programs to support college students training for health professions also are available for students training for mental health professions.
- Make the best use of the state's existing mental health resources by reimbursing the cost of tele-health services provided by all licensed mental health professionals and the cost of evidence-based integrated health care, such as psychiatric consultation to physicians.
- Initiate a collaborative, comprehensive and long-range strategic planning process to address the mental health workforce shortage in Texas, similar to a successful sustained model in Alaska that involves multiple strategies and partners.