Opening Plenary: Representatives Marcus Riccelli and Joe Schmick discuss rural Washington behavioral health needs


Shane Ersland


Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane) and Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax) discussed the challenges rural Washingtonians face in accessing behavioral healthcare services at the 2023 Inland Northwest State of Reform Health Policy Conference in Spokane.

Riccelli noted that lawmakers made strategic investments in behavioral health during the 2023 legislative session

“We know that our community won’t thrive if we’re not making these kinds of investments into treatment and care, and making sure people have the wraparound services they need. And that impacts the overall well-being of our community. I think we should treat public health in our rural areas the same way we treat public safety. There should be a basic level of service no matter where you go.”

— Riccelli

Schmick said he is concerned with the availability of emergency services in rural areas.

“I’m really concerned about if someone would have a problem. It’s a challenge in rural areas to get services; mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors, EMTs, volunteers. These are all things that really build into delivering care for the folks in the rural area. One of the challenges we find, and I try to help point out, is that one size does not fit all. What might work in an urban area probably will not work in a rural area. Therefore there needs to be flexibility for those folks in rural areas to be able to deliver those services.”

— Schmick

Schmick said it is important for Washington to eliminate barriers for healthcare workers trying to enter the state’s workforce, particularly around licensure. 

“Washington does not play well with other states. Sometimes there’s hurdles for folks when they come to Washington. Anything that precludes people from practicing when they move here, we’ve got to lessen those barriers. And sometimes those barriers are higher hurdles for rural areas.”

— Schmick

Riccelli said the state needs to focus on incentivizing healthcare jobs in rural areas to make them more attractive to young professionals.

“What are we doing with student loan debt to incentivize them to go into these areas? How can we work with those communities to provide loan repayment and other incentives? Because we know if they spend a few years in that community, that lifestyle could really take to them. Now if it doesn’t, and they go and spend three or four years in these underserved communities, that’s great as well.’

— Riccelli