Public pressure can compel the Oregon Legislature to make changes. And one place that deserves public pressure is mental health care.
In state rankings, Oregon usually ranks near the bottom in mental health care access. One reason could be it’s harder to get a license in Oregon. Oregon mental health counselors are required to complete 2,400 hours with clients under supervision. The state of Washington requires only half that number. And therapists can end up having to pay for those supervised hours themselves.
There’s also concern that people of color can find it extremely difficult to find a mental health counselor who looks like them, as OPB reported. A group called Clinicians Of Color Community & Consulting formed in Portland to help, but it still has to turn people away. About 3% of Oregon’s population is Black. And less than 1% of mental health providers are Black.
Several legislators wrote a letter to Gov. Kate Brown earlier this year asking for changes in state regulations.
A key recommendation would change the disparity in supervised training, only requiring 1,200 hours for full licensure, instead of the 2,400 required in Oregon. “By comparison, Washington requires 1,200 direct hours, California 1,750 hours, and Idaho 400 hours,” the legislators wrote. Oregon already made a pandemic-related change allowing reciprocal licensure for those practicing outside of Oregon, permitting them to practice in Oregon for six months. That would seem to be a de facto approval of a lowered requirement for supervised training.
Another recommendation was to “allow mental health interns on insurance panels so they can bill insurance.” We are not as sure about this one. Addressing the level of supervised training could be more important. It seems debatable to allow interns to bill insurance as though they had completed all their training.
State Rep. Janelle Bynum, a Democrat who represents East Portland and Happy Valley, has also proposed draft legislation for the 2021 session that would do two things. It would establish “a $50 million fund to increase access to mental health care for communities of color and a $40 million fund to recruit and retain clinicians of color through pipeline development, scholarships, stipends and loan repayment.” Of course, that will compete against the state’s many other needs.
You don’t have to just let legislators decide these issues. If this issue is important to you, email your legislator and tell them what you think.