COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — To address the increased need for mental health care across Ohio, two state lawmakers have introduced identical bills in the Ohio House and Senate to create a new type of mental health provider.
Ohio Senate Bill 364 and House Bill 730 would establish “certified mental health assistants” as licensed health care professionals who can administer care under the direct supervision of a licensed physician. Licenses would need to be renewed every two years, according to the proposed bills introduced by Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) and Rep. Gail Pavliga (R-Portage County).
Gavarone said through establishing a new path toward licensure for people who want to work in the mental health field, she hopes more Ohioans can access life-saving mental health care.
“It can totally change someone’s life and the trajectory of the path they’re on for the better,” Gavarone said.
According to the proposed bills, certified mental health assistants would have to apply for licensure with the state medical board of Ohio, similar to how physicians, nurses and other health care professionals seek certification. Applicants must be at least 18 and have a master’s or higher degree from a board-approved education program or received a degree from an accredited medical school.
The bills authorize the Ohio medical board to establish an accreditation process for education programs.
Certified mental health professionals would not be able to diagnose patients — that would be done by the supervising physician — but they would be able to provide continuing care, opening up physicians’ schedules for additional patients.
“It’s just a way of really helping people connect to the level of care that they need at the time that they need it,” Gavarone said. “If you’re having a mental health crisis, you need help, you need help now. Unaddressed mental health needs can quickly spiral out of control.”
Gavarone said by introducing legislation in both statehouse chambers, she and Pavliga hope to get a version to the governor’s desk sooner.
The proposed legislation has received bipartisan support from current and former Ohio politicians.
Former Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich said increasing and improving the state’s mental health care system is important.
“That would be a real step forward for the state of Ohio to do something like that,” Kasich said.
In a statement, Rep. Beth Liston (D-Dublin) mirrored Kasich’s sentiment.
“There are so many people in Ohio needing mental health services,” Liston said. “I look forward to working on this and discussing the best way to help ensure mental health care is accessible to everyone.”
Both bills await introduction into committee, where they face potential changes and a vote before they arrive on the Senate and House floors.