Report: mental health workforce has capable help waiting in wings

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Like many other states, Minnesota has its share of provider gaps when it comes to mental health care, and a new report cited steps Congress and other decision-makers can take to help bolster the behavioral-health workforce, amid the growing demand for mental health services and a shortage of licensed providers.

Kendall Strong, the senior policy analyst for the health project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said one solution is to enhance the role of those with mental health training who do not have the full credentials. She argued that behavioral-health support specialists are certainly up to the task.

“These people are underutilized,” Strong contended. “They have a lot to offer because part of the folks that we’re talking about are folks like peer support specialists, who have lived experiences, and can really connect with folks who are struggling.”

Others in the group are community health workers and paraprofessionals. The report recommended reducing barriers for them to take on bigger roles in behavioral health, including adopting a certification framework to promote flexibility but still protect patients. Strong acknowledged a divided Congress might provide obstacles but added there is optimism with both parties recognizing the provider shortage.

Strong noted specialists are often embedded in the community and help individuals navigate the mental health care system. She added they can also provide direct care when a clinical setting is not necessary.

“Many times, folks don’t necessarily need to see a psychiatrist, say to that level, but still need some care,” Strong pointed out.

And she stressed relying more on this approach can reduce the burnout licensed providers are experiencing right now.

The report also called on federal officials to explore expanding Medicaid and Medicare coverage of services provided by behavioral health support specialists.

The Kaiser Family Foundation said Minnesota has 133 areas with provider shortage designations, which affects more than two million residents.

Mike Moen writes for Minnesota News Connection.

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