Illinois lawmakers aim to stem mental health worker shortage

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Anyone can be impacted by mental illness—whether it is personally, a friend or family member—but for years, the stigma surrounding it has prevented people from getting the care they need. That’s why I am so proud that the Illinois Legislature is focusing on behavioral health and substance use disorders to ensure everyone has the access they require for treatment and recovery. In Illinois, we want to be sure mental health and physical health are viewed the same, because you can’t have one without the other.

Improving access to mental health care for people across the state concerns me deeply. However, people seeking mental health treatment in Illinois face many barriers. A shortage of providers is one of the biggest obstacles. Currently, the state has only 14 behavioral health care professionals for every 10,000 residents. This scarcity leaves many people who are bravely taking the first steps to seek care with no place to turn. They either can’t find a provider with availability or one they can afford. This can have serious repercussions on their health and safety, especially because they cannot wait to get help while in a crisis.

By 2026, Illinois is on track to have 8,353 unfilled mental health care jobs, according to Mercer’s 2021 External Healthcare Labor Market Analysis. In-patient facility providers will tell you they have empty of beds, but they cannot fill those beds because not enough providers are available to offer patients the quality and experienced care they deserve. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified these issues. Patients and mental health care providers need help more than ever in addressing the behavioral health workforce crisis.

That’s why I initiated Senate Bill 3617, known as the "Ensuring a More Qualified, Competent, and Diverse Community Behavioral Health Workforce Act." It addresses the concerns of patients and providers by growing the workforce and directing more people who are seeking mental health care to providers who have availability. The bill accelerates the process for out-of-state clinicians applying for licensure in Illinois and cuts the red tape for social workers, professional counselors and clinical psychologists returning to the workforce after taking time off for up to five years. It also includes initiatives to support diversity in the mental health field, and it establishes tax credits for employers who hire workers in recovery. These important pieces will help us expand a quality, accessible mental, behavioral and substance use disorder workforce in Illinois that will be able to provide care to those seeking assistance.

With this bill, Illinois residents should see that lawmakers consider mental health just as important as physical health. The Legislature will continue to work with the behavioral health community to ensure we can meet the needs of Illinois residents no matter where they live in the state.

Laura Fine is an Illinois state senator and chair of the Senate Behavioral and Mental Health Committee.

via Crain’s Chicago Business

March 31, 2022 at 07:51PM

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