A push at the State Capitol to address mental health worker shortage

Published: Oct. 9, 2023 at 3:32 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Healthcare advocates in Michigan are urging lawmakers to cut the red tape and make physician assistants qualify to assist patients with mental health issues.

The Michigan Academy of Physician Assistants said 38 percent of Michiganders with a mental illness can’t get the help they need. That’s because there’s a shortage of people trained to help them. The group is asking lawmakers for a chance to help fill in those gaps and to “be able to provide these mental health services that they are educated to do,” said Ashley Malliett, the President of the Michigan Academy of Physician Assistants.

Rachel Broadbent said her experience with a physician’s assistant (PA) started right after she relocated to Lansing in 2019.

“Just more personal care, I think. And I have not had the experience, so far, with my PA provider of feeling like I’m not being heard.”

She called her experience with a PA more patient-focused.

“I definitely feel like the focus is more on me as a whole person, so not just the individual health concern that brought me in that day.”

Malliet said the Patient-Led Care Package introduced four bills asking lawmakers to add PAs to the definition of mental health providers, ensure patient care across state lines, allow PAs to recommend qualified providers like certified medical assistants, and update the job title to Physician Associate.

“PA’s are trained, educated, and we have curriculum, and we actually practice in mental health facilities. Yet, when you look at the health code in Michigan, even with all of our training, we can’t function like we do in other settings.”

Like primary care or internal medicine, supporters said the push, led by state representatives from each side of the aisle, helps Michigan address a healthcare worker shortage.

“They are already trained in mental health services. They’re just not actually in the mental health code as mental health professionals here in Michigan,” said Rep. Carrie Rheingans, (D) Ann Arbor.

“There’s been some in the hospital setting, doctors, etc., that say well a physician assistant should be attended with a physician around them,” Rep. Curt VanderWall, (R) Ludington.

In addition to helping more patients see a licensed mental health professional when they need one, supporters of the bills said the reforms will bring jobs to Michigan’s economy by attracting more health care professionals across the state.

The Patient-Led Care Package still needs to go through the committee process before it can be voted on by the House of Representatives.

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