Tai to introduce resolution to study, address mental health provider crisis in Pa.

State Rep. Helen Tai, D-Bucks, today announced she is introducing a resolution directing the Joint State Government Commission to study the mental health provider shortage in Pennsylvania and issue a report no later than one year after its adoption.

The commission’s report would explore the factors behind the MHP shortage, make projections on the number of providers in the future and offer recommendations to stop and reverse the shortage.

“Access to mental health services and providers are key to addressing so many of the problems Pennsylvanians struggle with each day, including substance abuse disorders, school safety and rising rates of suicide,” Tai said. “As the demand for mental health services has grown, there continues to be a shortage of mental health providers to meet their needs. We cannot ignore this worsening crisis, which is why I issued a co-sponsorship memo today to bring on as many of my fellow legislators as possible to join in support of this important resolution.”

If adopted, the resolution would require the JSGC in its report to, at a minimum:

  1. Identify the factors behind the MHP shortage in Pennsylvania;
  2. Make projections on the number of MHPs in Pennsylvania in five and 10 years;
  3. Determine how telemedicine can be used to extend the mental health workforce in rural counties;
  4. Determine how Pennsylvania government entities can encourage more people to enter and remain in the mental health workforce; and
  5. Make recommendations regarding:
    1. How to solve the disparity in the number of MHPs in rural counties compared to urban and suburban counties; and
    2. Any other solutions to stop and reverse the MHP shortage in Pennsylvania.

“It’s important that we aren’t just looking at the impact the shortage has already had, but also what to expect as we move forward and the actions state government can take to increase our mental health workforce, increase provider retention, and expand patient access,” Tai said.

Currently, Pennsylvania’s supply of MHPs is lagging behind the demand and needs of citizens across ages and demographics, including students, older adults and the workforce. The commonwealth ranks 35 out of 50 states for mental health workforce availability with a statewide average of 179 mental health providers per 100,000 people. This ratio led to an estimated 53.2 percent of the adult population with a mental illness not receiving treatment for it in 2017. A 2018 Pennsylvania School Safety Task Force report found that the availability of school-based mental health and support personnel in Pennsylvania falls short of staffing levels recommended by national and statewide organizations, with many school social workers covering multiple schools with thousands of students.

“Because there aren’t enough of them, more and more providers are becoming overburdened with increased caseloads, leading to lower quality care for patients and decreased efficiency,” Tai said. “These are major reasons why we are seeing an increase in provider burnout and turnover, which only makes this crisis worse. Adoption of my resolution would be an important step toward stopping and reversing this cycle and increasing access to and the efficiency of mental health services for Pennsylvanians.”