“We’ve got to have more people who can work at all levels in the mental-health care treatment system”
Legislation signed into law this month by Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to bring updates long overdue to mental-health services in Massachusetts.
The Mental Health Addressing Barriers to Care or ABC Act mandates insurance coverage for an annual mental-wellness exam and enforcing mental-health parity laws. It comes at a time when the need for mental-health services has been heightened by the pandemic.
The law also creates an online portal for Emergency Department visits or ED Boarding. Dr. Grace Chang, president of the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society, explained how this can be beneficial for acute mental-health needs.
“ED Boarding occurs when people present for acute care. They’re assessed to require it, but then when there is a bed search made for the patient, there’s no bed available,” she said. “One of the important things is that we need real-time data, and maybe this real-time data can be used to inform admissions.”
Chang said she thinks the provisions in the new law can’t come soon enough. According to a recent Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation study, 35% of adults in the state reported needing behavioral-health care, but 57% said they either had difficulty getting appointments or did not get the care they needed because of other issues.
While Chang said she sees the bill as a step in the right direction, she cited more work to be done. Although this bill removes plenty of barriers to accessing behavioral-health services, she said she feels a different problem must be addressed – a shortage of professionals to provide those services.
“We’ve got to have more people who can work at all levels in the mental-health care treatment system. So, that’s a major factor,” she said. “I think that a number of proposals and initiatives are being discussed, and will be offered and implemented, such as loan forgiveness programs for training.”
One reason for the shortage is what Chang described as a “pipeline issue” – training to become a mental-health professional takes almost a decade. However, she remains hopeful that the potential incentives will attract more people to the field.
Edwin J. Viera is a reporter and producer in North Tonawanda, New York. He's previously reported for the Niagara Gazette and the Ithaca Times. Edwin got an early start in radio interning for WBFO-88.7FM, NPR's Buffalo affiliate. In 2018, he graduated from SUNY Buffalo State College with a B.A. in Journalism, and in 2022, graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Communications.