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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Emphasizes Mental Health Workforce Needs

    Matthew Shick, Sr. Director, Gov't Relations & Regulatory Affairs

    At a Feb. 15 Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education hearing titled, “Mental Health Care: Examining Treatments and Services,” both witnesses and Senators expressed concern over mental health workforce challenges.

    All four witnesses, which included three health professionals and one member of the law enforcement community, underscored that the biggest limitations to providing access to care were the availability of treatment options, facilities, and a workforce of behavioral health professionals. During the hearing, Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) stated that, “coverage is important, but coverage without access is not solving the problem.”

    Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) said that in his state, rural areas are particularly affected. Sen. Moran went on to explain that “one of the greatest challenges we face is attracting, educating, and retaining the workforce professionals necessary to provide care and treatment.”

    Cherokee Health Systems Chief Executive Officer Dennis Freeman, PhD, stated that a graduate psychology program through the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) has helped train the behavioral health workforce in his system, further noting that those involved in the HRSA program have remained part of the workforce. Dr. Freeman also added that the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) has been a helpful resource, noting that over 80 percent of his staff who enrolled in NHSC end up staying within his health system.

    After naming a few state-based programs, National Council for Behavioral Health Medical Director Joseph Parks, PhD, suggested there is a need for additional support for post-graduate training for psychiatry and mental health professionals. 

    The purpose of the hearing was to understand the needs of public health and public safety organizations regarding mental health and substance use disorder treatment services. During a separate inquiry, the health professionals on the panel credited the Affordable Care Act (ACA, P.L. 111-148 and P.L. 111-152) and its Medicaid expansion with increasing in the number of people covered by health insurance. When questioned about the ACA by Subcommittee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Navos Mental Health Solutions Chief Executive Officer David Johnson, EdD, said the health care law has made care more accessible to people with mental illnesses or substance use disorders.