New bill aims to bring more mental health care workers to Florida

Health experts say the measure could be step forward in addressing mental health care shortages.
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 9:52 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A bill has been proposed in the Florida Senate that aims to bring more mental health counselors to the state, as many communities face a growing shortage of health care workers.

The proposal would allow Florida to join the Professional Counselors Licensure Compact. It’s a compact between ten states which allows licensed mental health counselors to practice in each participating state.

Health experts say the measure could be a step forward in addressing mental health care shortages.

Doctor Jay Reeve, President and CEO of the Apalachee Center says this region has been facing these shortages for more than 15 years.

But it’s a challenge he says has gotten significantly more acute within the last couple of years.

Two main reasons for this, Reeve says, is the COVID-19 pandemic, but also a new emphasis and attention brought to addressing individual’s mental health needs.

The Apalachee Center has introduced a number of new programs just within the last couple years to expand access to services across the Big Bend. The Collaborative Apalachee Center/Leon County Sheriff’s Office Mobile (CALM) program seeks to divert mental health crisis patients to appropriate services and away from arrest and incarceration.

Last year the center partnered with the City of Tallahassee to create the Tallahassee Emergency Assessment Mobile Response Unit (TEAM) to assist in non-violent mental health related dispatch calls.

The center is also set to open a new primary care clinic in Madison by the beginning of next year.

Many of these new initiatives, Dr. Reeve says, is a direct response to organizations and municipalities identifying the needs in the community and coming forward to address them.

“It comes from people contacting us and saying, hey we really need some new services here,” Reeve said. “We really want to introduce a professional mental health component in to something we want to do for the good of the community. So it’s the appetite, which is a great thing to live in a place that has that kind of appetite for more and better mental health service, but from time to time it does put a little strain on the resources.”

Reeve says the Apalachee Center has nearly doubled the number of filled positions within the last six years. But a growing need of services has forced many health care organizations to get creative to meet those needs.

The Professional Counselors Licensure Compact bill unanimously passed its first committee hearing last week.

The Apalachee Center says they strongly support the measure, saying it can help recruitment and address lag issues in getting more workers to the state.

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