Oswalt: Exciting Progress to Reduce Virginia Mental Health Shortages | Columnists

Deborah Oswalt

Sometimes the predominance of a large complex problem prevents it from being solved. This may certainly be true of the mental health crisis that Virginia is currently experiencing.

The COVID-19 pandemic and social stressors have caused depression, anxiety, panic disorder and other mental states across the state in extremely large numbers of Virginians of all ages.

The growing demand for mental health services cannot be met by the shrinking number of behavioral health professionals in both the public and private sectors.

Fortunately, the Virginia General Assembly has stepped up to help address this worrying shortage through a set of mental health workforce initiatives included in the state budget it has just adopted. This will help relieve many virgins through a variety of approaches, including several innovative ones.

Problems №1: 61% of psychiatrists in Virginia are 55 years of age or older, and there are no psychiatrists in 54 communities. Not surprisingly, these predominantly rural settlements perform much worse on key behavioral health indicators than the state as a whole. Unfortunately, the retirement replacement pipeline does not even produce enough psychiatrists to maintain the current number of practitioners. To help deal with this situation, the General Assembly is funding 10 new psychiatric residences.

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Problems №2: The number of licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and licensed professional counselors (LPC) is insufficient to meet the demand for counseling and other therapies they are trained to offer.

The new state budget includes two innovative initiatives that will immediately increase the availability of counseling services and eventually add more than 200 licensed therapists to the Virginia Mental Health Professionals’ Fair.

One addresses a significant financial barrier to licensing graduates of Masters in Social Work (MSW) and Masters in Counseling (MC) by paying for the supervision of the clinical hours required for licensing. Many graduate masters cannot afford the fees for the 100 to 200 hours of supervision required, respectively, and Virginia loses the advantage of having a stable corps of talented therapists as a result. The new initiative, Boost 200, will pilot the effect and value of the state, which pays for the supervision of 100 MSW and 100 MC. Priority will be given to applicants who practice in one of the 93 localities in Virginia, which are areas with a shortage of mental health professionals (such as much of the Roanoke Valley and points west), or people of color, or who they speak two languages.

The other ingenious approach provides an opportunity to address the large number of mental health problems of students in colleges and universities in Virginia. The General Assembly has provided funding for university student health centers to hire an MSW or MC through a grant from the Virginia State Board of Higher Education. The necessary advice will be available under short-term supervision and Virginia will receive more LCSW and LPC in the long term.

Problems №3: Many children suffer from depression, anxiety and other stressors for mental health. Pediatricians are usually not trained to treat them and are not equipped to manage mental health in their medical practices.

The General Assembly provided additional funding for the creative and effective program for access to mental health in Virginia, which provides pediatricians with the training and tools they need to serve children with mental needs. This includes year-round education and access opportunities and provides access to on-duty child and adolescent psychiatrists 40 hours per week. It also provides navigation for care and guidance to the necessary resources.

A strong workforce of licensed behavioral health professionals is essential to provide the necessary mental health services in both the public and private sectors. No initiative can address the current and growing shortage. The multidimensionality of decisions and strategies requires a multifaceted approach with cross-sectoral commitment, focus and investment of time, money and attention focused on initiatives that will lead to measurable results. To determine the most effective ways to expand the behavioral health workforce, the General Assembly ordered the governor’s office to appoint a member of the executive to be a health workforce development advisor in Virginia and provided some funding to support the effort.

Virginia is a state that can do. He was successful every time his leaders focused on increasing the performance or ranking of the British community. The new behavioral health workforce initiatives included in the budget just adopted by the General Assembly are a great start in addressing the shortage of these valuable and necessary professionals. We are on the way.

Oswalt is the founding director of the Virginia Health Foundation in Richmond, a public / private partnership. The foundation’s mission is to increase access to primary care for the uninsured and medically underserved Virginia through innovative programming and service delivery models.

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