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February 25, 2024 12:45 am

Local News

A Pair of Measures Aim to Tackle State’s Behavioral Health Provider Shortage

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by Camalot Todd, Nevada Current

All of Nevada’s counties are federally designated mental health provider shortage areas. The state ranks last in the nation for mental health metrics like access to care and high prevalence of mental illness. And it ranks second in the Mountain West region with the lowest mental health workforce availability, with only one professional to every 460 people, according to a report by the UNLV Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute. 

A pair of bills this legislative session take aim at Nevada’s shortage of mental and behavioral health providers progress through the legislature.  The first would create a Behavioral Health Workforce Development Center of Nevada to train future staff. The second would expand the state health care provider student loan repayment program to behavioral health care providers who are not eligible under existing state laws.

Both bills are sponsored by the Assembly Education Committee at the request of two of the state’s five regional behavioral health boards.  

The Rural Regional Behavioral Health Policy Board introduced AB 37 to create a statewide Behavioral Health Workforce Development Center of Nevada within the  Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) that would help recruit and train mental and behavioral health providers, starting at the high school level and continuing through licensure. 

“What we’re trying to do is grow our own,”  Fergus Laughridge, the chair of the Rural Regional Behavioral Health Policy Board, and health director at Fort McDermitt Tribal Wellness Center, said during an Assembly Committee on Revenue meeting earlier this month when the bill was heard. 

“Case in point is White Pine County had a social worker, [who] was in training, she needed to get her hours in for supervisory, she goes to Idaho. Idaho offers her a job and guess where she’s located now? And White Pine County is once again without a provider,” Laughridge said during the hearing. 

The center would not be a brick-and-mortar facility but would be housed at UNLV as a hub and use remote work to promote collaboration across NSHE institutions, according to a presentation by the Rural Regional Health Policy Board at the meeting. 

It would also collaborate with state school districts to expand Career and Technical Education Programming to include behavioral health professions in schools. It would also bolster efforts to support disadvantaged youth, including those in rural, BIPOC, LGTBQ+, and non-English speaking communities considering careers in behavioral health, to improve workforce cultural competency in the mental health field. 

The Assembly Committee on Revenue heard the bill, but no action was taken. 

Supporters of the bill include the Nevada Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Nevada Health Care Workforce and Pipeline Development Workgroup, The Nevada Health Workforce Research Center at the University of Nevada, the Reno School of Medicine, the Nevada State Medical Association, Nevada Psychological Association, Nevada Association of School Psychologists, Henderson Chamber of Commerce, Washoe Regional Behavioral Health Policy Board, and the state Board of Examiners for Social Work. 

There was no opposition to the bill. 

In a fiscal note attached to the bill, NSHE estimated the Behavioral Health Workforce Development Center of  Nevada would cost $2.5 million for fiscal years 2024 and 2025 and approximately $2.7 million annually thereafter. 

The funding request for the first fiscal year of 2024 includes an executive director, two associate directors, one regional project manager, one data analyst, one grant manager, one administrative assistant, and one graduate assistant. 

The Washoe Regional Behavioral Health Policy Board introduced AB 69  which would expand the repayment program administered by the Nevada Health Service Corps beyond more traditional medical physicians to include psychologists, marriage and family therapists, social workers, substance use and gambling counselors, and other licensed or certified behavioral health providers. 

These providers would have to commit to practicing full-time for at least 2 years in Nevada, accept Medicaid payments and provide services to all patients regardless of their ability to pay. 

AB 69 passed the Assembly Education work session last week. 

AB 69 would appropriate $1.5 million from the State General Fund to the Nevada Health Service Corps for loan repayment. NSHE also projects an annual fiscal impact of roughly $44,000 to administer the expanded program. 

Nevada Association of School Psychologists, High Sierra Area Health Education Center, Nevada Health Care Workforce and Pipeline Development Workgroup, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Nevada, and Clark Regional Behavioral Health Policy Board all supported the bill. 

“Many individuals and families in Nevada are suffering from behavioral health conditions that include mental health and substance use disorders,” Char Frost, the chair of the Clark Regional Behavioral Health Policy Board, said in a statement of support. “Loan repayment can effectively address part of the longstanding workforce shortage issue affected by recruiting and behavioral health provider retention.”

There was no opposition to the bill. 

“We have a lot of work to do, but this is the first step,”  Steve Shell, vice chair of Washoe Behavioral Health Policy Board and NAMI board president Nevada said in an interview. 

While AB 69 One , Shell said. Those participating in the loan forgiveness program under AB 69 would still have to see patients, regardless of their ability to pay, for two years in Nevada. 

While the two Assembly bills would create a pipeline of mental health providers and ease some of the financial burdens of pursuing these professions in schools, there are no bills that would address another barrier to addressing the state’s needs — insurance company reluctance to accept behavioral health providers in insurance networks.

Shell said to addressing insurance panels is on the radar but that these bills give the regional boards time to work on the issue while addressing the immediate need. 

NSHE did not respond for comment on these two bills at the time of publication.

This story was written by Camalot Todd, a reporter for the Nevada Current, where this story first appeared.

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