Stakeholders say joining interstate licensure compact would significantly increase access to behavioral health services in Colorado

Kiara Kuenzler M.D., CEO and president of the Jefferson Center, said her organization could serve an additional 10,000 more patients each year if Senate Bill 077 becomes law. 

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on SB 077 on Monday, legislation that would significantly increase the workforce pool for behavioral health counselors in the state. 

 

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The bill would bring Colorado into the new Interstate Licensed Professional Counselors Compact, which was established in 2020 and already enacted by Georgia and Maryland in 2021. 

The compact would allow mental and behavioral health counselors and providers licensed in Colorado to practice across state lines without having to regain licensure.. Providers could therefore work immediately upon practicing in other compact states without having to undergo a separate licensing process.

Twelve other states around the country are considering legislation on joining this compact. The compact will only take effect once ten states join.

Senator Joann Ginal (D-Fort Collins)—sponsor of the bill—said it would eliminate barriers for providers to use their license to their fullest extent. It would reduce relicensing burdens that discourage providers to relocate or practice elsewhere. For Colorado, this would incentivize providers looking to move to Colorado to practice in their state and increase access to behavioral and mental health care. Ginal said: 

“These compacts really help in expanding the license portability and streamlining licensing burdens, which could particularly be helpful in addressing the critical workforce shortage that we see across the mental health professions at this time.”

Legislators have cited the increased demand and need for behavioral health services coupled with the workforce shortage seen throughout the state. Ginal said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and highlighted the gaps in access to care around the state.

Ryan Burkhart, Ed.D, executive director at the Colorado Counseling Association, said rural areas have very little access to behavioral and mental health in Colorado. This bill would allow rural patients to use telehealth to access treatment easier from providers in any compact state.

Burkhart said only providers who have credible licensure and have received no disciplinary action within the last two years would have this privilege to practice in other states. He also assured the committee that the compact respects the autonomy and rules of the state, which means the providers will still need to follow all the rules and guidelines within the state they are practicing.

Kuenzler of Jefferson Center said the center has 90 current positions unfilled, and over two-thirds of those positions are for licensed professional counselors (LPCs). 

She said the passage of this bill will also allow her to recruit many more individuals, expanding the application pool and incentivizing more people to work as an LPC. The current process of re-licensure upon crossing state lines is a deterrent to enter the field and restricts movement or other opportunities, she said. 

“It will go a long way in not only increasing capacity and options for care for the clients that we serve, but will also decrease the burden on our current team of therapists and providers,” said Kuenzler. “Participating in the interstate compact would mean an increase to the number of qualified providers supporting the behavioral health system in Colorado. More providers means better care, better access, and a stronger behavioral health system.”