Senate Bipartisan Framework Highlights Need for Access to Mental Health Services
The Family Counseling Center of Fulton County applauds the recent action of bipartisan lawmakers in the construction of a tentative framework to address increased violence. The tentative framework, though short, highlights the need for more mental health resources and access to care. This focus is important; however, there are factors that need to be addressed beyond the document. Specifically, the framework includes access to 24/7 community mental health centers and mental health and trauma counseling in schools.
“The increased drive for 24/7 access to mental health services is an important component in addressing the epidemic of mental health crisis in our country,” said Michael Countryman, Executive Director of The Family Counseling Center. “This is a noble goal but it needs to be weighed against the employment crisis the mental health industry is facing nationally.” Specifically, the continued decrease in available therapists and psychiatrists.
According to Scott Lloyd of MTM Services, nationally, organizations are working with 35% of their available clinical roles open. That, coupled with a 400% increase in demand for mental health services, means organizations like The Family Counseling Center are trying to meet an unprecedented need at just 65% staff capacity. Additionally, mental health organizations across the country are taking three times as long to refill open positions than they did pre-pandemic.
The lack of available mental health professionals is not a new phenomenon. As early as 2013, organizations such as the American Psychological Association and Kaiser Family Foundation were raising the alarm.
According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, the demand for mental health and addiction services continues to increase. In a September 2020 report, the National Council found that while the demand for services was increasing, the capacity to meet demand diminished because of the pandemic with 54% of organizations closing programs and 65% having to cancel appointments or turn away clients. Additionally, organizations have lost, on average, 23% of their annual revenue.
“We have been luckier than most organizations,” Countryman continued. “We adapted quickly when the pandemic hit, transitioning to 100% telehealth services within a week of the shut-down. We haven’t had to cancel any of our programs and today see clients both in-person and via telehealth. Our biggest barrier currently is hiring enough qualified therapists to meet the demand.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released numbers regarding Mental Health Care Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). The timeframe covered up until September 2021 and notes that over one-third of Americans live in areas lacking mental health professionals. Nationally, 6,398 mental health providers are needed to fill the gap with areas of highest need being rural or partially rural communities like Fulton County. Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that an additional 272 therapists in New York State could meet the need.
“272 therapists may not sound like much,” said Countryman, “but at the same time we are also seeing therapists and counselors leaving the mental health industry. We need to replace those who are leaving the field and increase the numbers.”
An April 2022 issue of Psychiatric Times notes that the current shortage of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals is expected to last for at least another three years. The publication states that nationally, 55% of counties have no psychiatrists and 77% counties report severe shortages.
“Currently, federal grant funds are being tied more and more to 24/7 access to mental health services,” stated Countryman. “While this is an important goal to strive for, our concern is that smaller, more rural organizations such as the Family Counseling Center will be closed out of consideration for grant awards because we cannot find enough qualified and dedicated individuals to fill the professional roles that would allow us to meet that 24/7 requirement.”
The Family Counseling Center is currently recruiting for outpatient mental health therapists, clinic supervisors, and many other roles. The organization is also increasing the role of bachelors level counselors including an Intake Specialist. The Intake Specialist will work to assess and register incoming clients in order to speed up access to care.
“Our organization is focusing on getting those who need our services into treatment faster. We are also finding unique ways to partner area police departments and school districts in order to aid in moments of mental health crisis. The Family Counseling Center is determined to address the needs of the communities in which we work and live.”