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New Law Aims to Meet Crushing Need for Mental Health Workers

Illinois has a new law designed to boost the mental healthcare workforce at a time when it has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, say state leaders.

Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) signed the legislation, which takes effect on June 10.

The law seeks to attract psychologists, social workers, and counselors who have left the workforce within the past 5 years by temporarily ending relicensing requirements, including the need for continuing education credit completion, passing new exams, and fee payments. It also eases the process for those practicing in other states to become licensed in Illinois.

State legislators said there is currently a crushing need for mental health providers, estimating that there are only 14 behavioral healthcare professionals for every 10,000 Illinois residents. The preamble to the law noted that there will be 8353 unfilled mental healthcare jobs in Illinois by 2026.

“We need a mental healthcare workforce that is robust enough to get people help when they need it — not after months on a waiting list,” Pritzker said in new release. “This legislation invests in mental health infrastructure — and that infrastructure is people, he added.

Grant Pathway

“Being told you have to wait weeks — or months — for care is extremely discouraging,” State Senator Laura Fine (D), a lead sponsor of the legislation, noted in the release.

“We need to support people struggling with mental and behavioral health issues, as well as address difficulties our mental health providers are facing trying to see as many patients as possible,” said Fine.

Marvin Lindsey, CEO of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association, added the law would “accelerate the process for out-of-state professionals to obtain their Illinois licensure and by increasing the pipeline and diversity of the behavioral health workforce by implementing a funding mechanism that supports new or existing licensure training of interns.”

The law sets up a grant pathway for community mental health centers, which often serve as training sites. The grants would provide funds to establish or enhance training and supervision of interns and behavioral health providers-in-training seeking to become licensed clinical social workers, licensed clinical professional counselors, or licensed marriage and family therapists.

The money for those grants still has to be appropriated.

The law will also allow patient visits at Specialized Mental Health Rehabilitation Facilities conducted by either a psychiatrist or an advanced practice registered mental health or psychiatric nurse.

Finally, it would establish tax credits for employers who hire individuals in recovery from a substance use disorder or a behavioral disorder. Beginning in January 2023, employers will be eligible for up to $2000 in credits per employee hired.

Alicia Ault is a Lutherville, Maryland–based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications including JAMA and Smithsonian.com. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault

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