Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Washington to study state's mental-health worker shortages; lack of providers a concern in rural U.S.

The state of Washington will study behavioral health provider shortages in rural areas, culminating with a report of recommendations to be delivered to the governor by December 2017, Sheila Hagar reports for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Recruiting mental health specialists in rural areas is a national problem, with many areas having shortages, or no providers at all. You can look for shortage areas here(Mental Health America map: Washington state is 47th in the organization's mental health care rankings based on 13 categories. The higher the number, the higher the prevalence of mental illness and the lower the access to care. Rates can vary widely within states, and rural areas are usually short on access.)
The goal of the Washington study "is to develop a plan to help ensure enough licensed or certified physical and behavioral health professionals are available to meet demand, and explore the role of community health workers in supporting people with problems," Hagar writes. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who initiated the study, told Hagar, “This evaluation will establish a baseline for behavioral health workforce shortages and provide a plan for improving how we coordinate the right services for patients."

One problem is limits on how Medicare covers mental health, Hagar writes. "Currently, the government insurance program will pay only for certain specialties, such as psychiatry, licensed social workers and psychologists. In reality, other providers—mental health counselors, for example — can provide a patient the same or more appropriate care at less money, but Medicare won’t pick up the tab," said Rick Weaver, chief executive officer for Yakima-based Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health, which also serves Walla Walla County. Weaver, who was in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday trying to convince lawmakers to redefine boundaries of who Medicare pays for mental health services, said "changing that would allow more patients to access help in places like Walla Walla, where psychiatrists are difficult to come by." (Read more)

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