Lawmakers team up with Northeast Ohio medical school to combat mental health worker shortage

By: - October 14, 2022 4:40 am

Educators, counselors in Ohio say schools need more mental health resources. Photo by WEWS.

The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

As Ohio continues to suffer from a mental health professional shortage, lawmakers have teamed up with a Northeast Ohio medical school to get students into the workforce quicker.

There is only one psychiatrist for every 10,000 Ohioans, according to Ohio’s branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio (NAMI Ohio), despite the rising demand for services.

Luke Russell and his daughter’s case exemplifies how difficult it is to find anyone able to help. She is 18, has bipolar disorder, and they have struggled to find anyone taking patients.

“I’m the director of NAMI,” Russel said. “I know everybody in the system!”

If the executive director of NAMI Ohio can’t find a provider, he asked, who can? Dr. Randy Welton said one of the reasons for that could be the startling statistic of the current workforce shortage.

“Ohio has about 50% of the psychiatrists we need,” Welton said.

Welton is the professor and chair of psychiatry at Northeast Ohio Medical University, also called NEOMED.

Portage County Republican state Rep. Gail Pavliga said she is tired of the inaction.

“It’s one thing to be able to ‘say, yes we should do this,'” Pavliga said. “It’s another thing to say, ‘how do we take the next steps?'”

Joining with state Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green), they worked with NEOMED on a bill to address the mental healthcare professional shortage.

“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 professional and just creates greater access for individuals in need of mental health services,” Gavarone said.

The Certified Mental Health Assistant would be similar to becoming a physician’s assistant. Students would still need a bachelor’s degree, but instead of going through four years of med school, the individual would only need to do two of this new program.

“The demand for service is way beyond the new people coming in to treat the folks that need the help,” Russell said. “This idea could really help us chip away at the access to care.”

Some of the details on the bill haven’t been ironed out yet, and it should be formally introduced next week. The lawmakers will propose it in both the Senate and with a companion bill in the House, that way the lawmakers can streamline the process. The lawmakers aren’t sure if it would get heard, but they want to share the idea for other legislators to think it over.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.

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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.

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