Bill Would Create New Certified Mental Health Assistant Position

State Senator Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) and State Representative Gail Pavliga (R-Portage County) have introduced a bill to address the shortage of mental health care professionals in Ohio.

The legislation proposes an innovative solution developed by NEOMED to create a new physician extender training pathway, similar to physician assistants, but with an exclusive focus on mental health and substance use disorders.

“These professionals would have the same expertise in the basics of anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology and pharmacology training that a physician assistant or a medical student would receive,” noted NEOMED President John Langell, M.D., during a press conference announcing the legislation. “But they would have much more in-depth, focused clinical training and experience with integrated behavioral health and primary care. Upon graduation, these professionals would be better prepared under physician supervision to treat patients with mental health conditions than current extender models being used within the state.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics, Ohio has about 1,200 practicing adult psychiatrists, approximately one for every 10,000 people. More than half of those psychiatrists are over age 60 and will be leaving the profession in the near future.

Opportunity to be creative

“This is a quite an opportunity to be creative, to think outside of the box,” said Randon Welton, M.D., Margaret Clark Morgan Endowed Chair of Psychiatry at NEOMED. “The idea of the shortage of psychiatric care is quite dear to my heart. Ohio has about 50% of the psychiatrists we need. That is just an indication of a national problem. Nationwide estimates suggest that we're about 15,000, maybe upwards of 30,000 psychiatrists short to meet the need for people. And that shows up in folks who are dissatisfied with the care that they receive.”

NEOMED has proposed a six-year pathway to practice, including a bachelor’s degree at the institution of a student’s choice and a two-year master’s degree to become a Certified Mental Health Assistant (CMHA). The proposal requires accrediting and executing a new educational pathway as well as legislature to recognize graduates to practice health care in Ohio.

That’s where the new bill comes in. If the legislation passes, Ohio will become the first state in the country to offer this innovative solution to the mental health crisis.

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