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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, July 30, 2017 1:00 am

Slow approval stunts state's opioid fight

Mental Health America's state ranking for prevalence of mental illness and access to care gives Indiana low marks. The state fell from 19th to 45th among the states between 2011 and 2014. A shortage of licensed therapists and the ongoing opioid epidemic – with growing demand for licensed addictions counselors, marriage and family therapists and social workers – don't bode well for improvement. 

The Indiana Behavioral Health and Human Services Board is the panel charged with oversight of professional credentials for social workers, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, and clinical addiction counselors.

Rachel Tobin-Smith writes in the accompanying piece that delays in licensing approvals, including lost applications and repeated requests for more information, have exacerbated the shortage. Applicants who have earned advanced degrees and spent thousands of hours working under licensed therapists are told they must return to school for additional coursework to satisfy Indiana's standards.

The 10-member board – the position of psychiatrist physician member is vacant – has just nine meetings scheduled this year, according to the state website, and one of those meetings has been canceled. 

A task force of the Indiana Commission on Improving the Status of Children discussed licensing issues last fall, raising questions about the time required, the stringency of licensing guidelines and other barriers to licensure.

Sen. Randy Head, R-Logans-port, a member of the commission, sponsored legislation requiring the licensing board to issue a license to therapists and counselors who hold valid licenses in another state, provided they have passed appropriate exams and have no pending disciplinary proceedings. The reciprocity measure went into effect July 1, but it should ease shortages to some degree. 

More changes are needed, however, particularly in ensuring the state has enough licensed mental health counselors available. The Behavorial Health and Human Services Board is restricted by state code that makes licensure a burdensome process. Indiana is losing young professionals to states where the process is less costly and time-consuming, even as it struggles to provide services to children and other at-risk populations.

The state needs to adopt national standards on accreditation so it can compete in attracting and retaining professionals willing and prepared to tackle this difficult work. 

– Karen Francisco