Texas Sen. Drew Springer (R – Muenster) filed Senate Bill 1282 on Tuesday, a measure that would create the Texas Mental Health Care Enterprise Fund (MHCEF) to recruit and retain individuals licensed for essential mental health professions.
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The legislature would determine the initial appropriation for MHCEF and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) would manage it. HHSC could accept financial donations and grants from outside parties to deposit into the fund and utilize it for investments, the returns on which could be reused within the fund.
Reporting from the Texas Tribune last week shows how, despite the state’s reforms from recent sessions, licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and therapists remain in short supply.
The federal government has designated 98% of Texas counties as mental health professional shortage areas. The shortage prevents the state from utilizing more than 700 available state psychiatric hospital beds.
Darrel Spinks, executive director of the Texas Behavioral Health Council, told State of Reform it would be unfair to judge the legislature on reforms passed last session because building the workforce takes time.
“Remember, we’re talking about training programs,” Spinks said. “You’ve got to go through a bachelor’s degree then you’ve got to go through another year and a half, two years of masters.
If you’re a psychologist, you’re talking about [going] on to get a PhD, do a dissertation, and then you still don’t become a full-fledged independent practitioner for any of these professions until you’ve done a certain amount of supervised experience. You’re talking about a good six years, six to 10, maybe 12 years, it takes to mint one of these providers … It’s unrealistic, really, to ask [legislators] to come up with [a quick fix].”
SB 1282 would grant license reciprocity to advanced practice registered nurses, among other mental health professions, allowing professionals from other states to practice in Texas. The bill aims to address the state’s ongoing critical shortage of nursing. Texas currently has the fourth worst nurse-to-population ratio at 9.25 registered nurses (RN) per 1,000 residents. The nursing gap is expected to reach 36,000 by 2025 and 60,000 by 2032 if current trends continue.
Local workforce development experts say the shortage led to higher rates of pay for nurses during the pandemic while the pandemic contributed to increased demand for mental health services.
In June 2021, the Health Resources and Services Administration awarded more than $4 million in grants to nine state educational institutions as part of its Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program for Professionals.
The federal program aims to increase access to behavioral health services by supporting the growth and quality of the behavioral health workforce.
Spinks said to meet the long-term demands of the population, the state needs to attract more individuals to these training programs now.
“You could have us working at 100% peak efficiency and we’re probably not going to be able to cure that shortage,” Spinks said. “And the reason [for that] is because you’ve got a bottleneck further up in the supply chain. You’ve only got so many training programs.
When you think of people coming out of these training programs, you think of what [the University of Texas is]—just thousands of kids forming a campus. There may be 13-14 people in a training program. That’s all you’re pumping out a year. And so it’s hard to meet the demands of 30 million people in 254 counties. That’s a natural bottleneck and beyond our purview of what we can do there.”