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Ohio lawmakers propose a new way to increase the number of mental health providers

Ohio Statehouse
Statehouse News Bureau

As the demand for mental health services grows — and with many psychologists aging and near retirement — Ohio lawmakers are sponsoring a bill aimed at increasing the number of mental health care providers.

State Senator Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) said her bill would create more access to mental health professionals by allowing colleges to offer specialized masters degrees.

"It creates a new licensed professional in the state of Ohio who has the ability to prescribe and work under the supervision of a medical processional and just creates greater access for individuals in need of mental health services," Gavarone said.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness in Ohio estimates one in five people experience mental illness each year. The group also states suicide is the leading cause of death in people10-14 years-old. And one third of African Americans between 18- and 30-years-old have considered suicide.

Many times, people who need help for a mental health problem cannot get in to see a provider because there aren’t enough of them. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services shows between 2013 and 2019, there was a 353% increase in demand for mental health services.

NAMI Ohio’s Luke Russell, someone with a lot of connections in the mental health field, said he experienced the problem first hand when trying to get a mental health provider for his college aged daughter.

“We’ve got to do better. Because if I can't find the right treatment or medications for one of my family members, I guarantee you Joe Smith who is a plumber and his wife's a teacher and they are doing everything right and they have a crisis, they need help,” Russell said.

When State Representative Gail Pavliga (R-Portage County) isn't serving in the legislature, she might be wearing her other hat as a mental health care provider. She said there is not enough psychiatrists in her field to accommodate the need, especially as many are getting ready to retire.

One big problem is psychiatrists are in demand and often get a degree here and practice in another state.

Dr. John Langell, President of The Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), has been working on this plan to give students more in-depth focus and clinical experience in mental health situations. And because it would be a specialized degree unique to Ohio, he said one big benefit would be that the people who receive this specialized degree would have to stay in Ohio to practice.

Dr. Randon Welton, chair of psychiatry at NEOMED, said many Ohioans have been waiting five to six weeks to get a first visit with a psychiatrist.

Gavarone said she doesn’t expect this bill to be taken up before the end of this year but added she wants lawmakers to start considering the proposal soon.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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