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September 03, 2020

Reps. Trone, Wilson, Eshoo Seek Independent Study of Mental and Behavioral Health Care Workforce Shortages in the United States Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Hannah.Muldavin@mail.house.gov

Reps. Trone, Wilson, Eshoo Seek Independent Study of Mental and Behavioral Health Care Workforce Shortages in the United States Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Effort a Part of Trone’s Focus on Mental and Behavioral Health During National Recovery Month

WASHINGTON — With the number of individuals experiencing mental illness and substance use disorders skyrocketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, today U.S. Representatives David Trone (MD-06), Frederica Wilson (FL-24), and Anna Eshoo (CA-14) wrote to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to request information about the current number of and projected demand for mental and behavioral health workers. The lawmakers also requested guidance on action steps Congress and states can take in order to meet this demand.

Even before the global pandemic, one in five adults — almost 46.6 million Americans —  suffered from mental illness. During the pandemic, over 30% of Americans are reportedly showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression, highlighting the need for health care workers in the mental and behavioral health fields across the nation.

The group sent the letter during the first week of National Recovery Month, which is held every September to increase awareness of mental health and substance use disorders, encourage people to pursue treatment, and celebrate those in recovery. Earlier today, Trone announced an historic bipartisan, bicameral effort in Congress to highlight National Recovery Month amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including efforts throughout the month to address the importance of mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

“COVID-19 is shining a bright light on the lack of behavioral and mental health care workers in this country. We have to address this crisis,” said Congressman David Trone. “We need to understand the demand for mental and behavioral health care workers and use that data to ensure we create a pipeline of talent to fill the needs of this country when it comes to mental health. It’s time we treat mental health with the same level of importance that we treat physical health.”

“I am proud to join Congressman Trone in calling for the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of our country’s mental and behavioral health workforce. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise in anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, underscoring the need for more professionals in these fields,” said Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. “Shortages of mental and behavioral health workers threaten access to care for millions of Americans struggling with mental illness at a time when they are most needed.”

“Mental health is a neglected part of our health care system with less than 40 percent of Americans with mental illness receiving any treatment,” said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. “The U.S. must have a national strategy to strengthen its mental and behavioral health workforce to address any shortages. The recommendations of the expert, non-partisan Government Accountability Office will go a long way toward real legislative reform.”

You can see a copy of the letter here.

You can see the text of the letter below:

September 3, 2020

The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro

Comptroller General of the United States

U.S. Government Accountability Office

441 G Street, NW

Washington, DC 20548

Dear Mr. Dodaro,

We are writing to request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluate several key statistics regarding our country’s mental and behavioral health workforce, namely the current size and the projected demand for mental and behavioral health workers, as well as recommend best practices for Congress and states to meet those employment demands.

The impact of mental illness on the landscape of our nation is immense. One in five adults, almost 46.6 million Americans, suffer from mental illness. Suicide ranks among the top ten causes of death across all age groups, with 48,344 deaths attributed to suicide in 2018. Scientists have discovered that 40% of recovered patients from the 2003 SARS epidemic were left with a psychiatric illness such as post-traumatic stress syndrome. Recent data from the Census Bureau suggests a similar mental health epidemic due to COVID-19; over 30% of Americans are already showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression.

While fatal drug overdoses declined slightly from 2017 to 2018, this progress has not been sustained. In 2019, deaths from overdoses increased by 4.8% from the previous year despite our country’s $21 billion investment in efforts to end the opioid crisis. This trend has only been exacerbated by the pandemic; data indicate an 11.4% increase in fatal overdoses in the first quarter of 2020.

Mental and behavioral healthcare providers are critical to supporting individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders, as well as those struggling in school, in abusive relationships, or facing a wide variety of other stressors. Unfortunately, there are severe shortages of professionals in these fields, and we are currently unable to meet our communities’ needs. A 2017 report from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) shows current shortages of both adult and child psychiatrists and predicts shortages of over 10,000 providers each for adult psychiatrists and addiction counselors in 2030. Psychiatrists and addiction counselors offer essential services. Shortages of these providers undermine our ability to respond to the impacts of the opioid epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government has taken steps to observe this vital industry. Reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on workforce size and from HRSA on the supply and demand of various healthcare professions are helpful to understand the gaps in the workforce. In order for us as policymakers to best address the identified shortages, we request a GAO report outlining the following information:

  1. Using HRSA’s database as a starting point, what is known about how many of each of the following mental and behavioral healthcare providers are currently actively practicing in the workforce? Please include demographic data where available, including gender, race and ethnicity, number of years in practice, state of practice, and practice setting (e.g. solo practitioner, academic setting).
    1. Adult psychiatrists, child and adolescent psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, addiction counselors, mental health counselors, and school counselors
  2. What are the five- and ten-year projected demands for professionals in the fields listed above, stratified by geographic region?
    1. What modifications to projections has HRSA made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  3. What is known about barriers, incentives, and levers on the state and federal levels to:
    1. Increase the number of individuals entering into these professions?
    2. Incentivize individuals trained in these professions to remain in practice?
    3. Ensure that the mental and behavioral health workforce reflects the national population in terms of gender and race/ethnicity?
    4. Ensure that the mental and behavioral health workforce is adequately distributed to meet regional needs, including in rural and urban underserved communities?
    5. Incentivize mental and behavioral healthcare providers to accept reimbursement from both public and private insurers and offer low-cost services for the uninsured?
    6. Maximize the treatment capacity of the mental and behavioral health workforce, such as through telehealth?

As part of this analysis, we would encourage you to take into account the role of Graduate Medical Education (GME) slots and possible incentives, such as student loan repayment programs, to both enter into one of these professions and practice in an underserved area.

Thank you very much for your help with this important concern. If you have any questions, please contact Amanda Guiliano at amanda.guiliano@mail.house.gov with the office of Congressman Trone.

Sincerely,

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