Illinois has a new law designed to boost the mental health workforce at a time when it has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, state leaders say.
Gov. JB Pritzker (D) signed the legislation, which will take effect June 10.
The law seeks to attract psychologists, social workers and counselors who have left the workforce within the past 5 years by temporarily ending licensing renewal requirements, including the need for continuing education credits, pass new exams and pay fees. It also makes the process easier for those practicing in other states to obtain a license in Illinois.
State lawmakers have said there is an overwhelming need for mental health care providers right now, estimating that there are only 14 behavioral health professionals for every 10,000 people in Illinois. The preamble to the law said there would be 8,353 unfilled mental health jobs in Illinois by 2026.
“We need a mental health workforce that is robust enough to help people when they need it — not after months on a waiting list,” Pritzker said in a new statement. “This legislation invests in mental health infrastructure – and that infrastructure is people,” he added.
“Being told you have to wait weeks – or months – for care is extremely disheartening,” State Sen. Laura Fine (D), one of the legislation’s main sponsors, noted in the statement. .
“We need to support people struggling with mental and behavioral health issues, as well as address the challenges that our mental health providers face in trying to see as many patients as possible,” Fine said.
Marvin Lindsey, CEO of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association, added that the law “would expedite the process for out-of-state professionals to become licensed in Illinois and increase the pipeline and the diversity of the behavioral health workforce by implementing a funding mechanism that supports new or existing trainee training towards licensure.”
The law establishes a grant pathway for community mental health centers, which often serve as training sites. The grants would provide funds to establish or enhance the training and supervision of trainees and behavioral health providers in training seeking to become licensed clinical social workers, licensed clinical professional counselors, or licensed marriage and family therapists.
The money for these grants has yet to be allocated.
The law will also allow patient visits to specialized mental health rehabilitation facilities conducted by a psychiatrist or registered mental health or psychiatric nurse in advanced practice.
Finally, it would establish tax credits for employers who hire people in recovery from a substance use or behavioral disorder. Starting in January 2023, employers will be eligible for up to $2,000 in credits per employee hired.
Alicia Ault is a freelance journalist based in Lutherville, Maryland, whose work has appeared in publications such as JAMA and Smithsonian.com. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault