By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
DOVER – With a shortage of licensed mental health providers in the state, and demand for access to telehealth growing, a new law has passed to help streamline licensing.
But Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington of Concord, who is also a Democratic candidate for governor, pressed state officials on the need to get going on promulgating the law so that licensed social work associates can add to New Hampshire’s workforce.
Gov. Chris Sununu agreed, saying if the 10-member Board of Mental Health Practice doesn’t move to implement the law quickly, they could be removed by the council.
The matter was an issue presented by Warmington to Lindsey Courtney, who is executive director of the New Hampshire Office of Professional Licensing and Certification at the Executive Council meeting Wednesday in Dover.
The OPLC is the administrative arm of the Board of Mental Health Practice, which is meeting Friday, July 21 in Concord for its regular meeting.
Warmington explained that the law has changed to allow for a streamlined process for a Licensed Social Work Associate under the following law https://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/XXX/330-A/330-A-18-d.htm
“The rules have not been promulgated to actually allow that to happen, despite the fact that the statute exists. So that is limiting our mental health workforce,” said Warmington.
She accused the board of obstructing the legislature’s actions.
Courtney said the OPLC has sent the message but noted “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink.”
Warmington said somebody in government needs to get to the Board.
“The message needs to be clear,” said Sununu. “Either they move on the rules, and we are trying to be fair…It’s July. They either move or this council will have them all removed. Absolutely. We’ll have discussions with every single one of them and we will bring them before us, because this is the body that can absolutely do that. So they either do their job or we’ll find someone who will do that for them,” Sununu said.
“I will certainly pass along that message, governor,” said Courtney.
Attempts to reach the OPLC’s office and Samuel Rosario, who is listed as the chair, were unsuccessful Thursday.
The move comes as New Hampshire has recently agreed to unified licensing guidelines across state lines for mental health counselors to easily practice across state lines.
According to the American Counseling Association, there are now 28 states that make up the Counseling Compact, including New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont.
It cites a mental health crisis in the country in which two out of five adults report having symptoms of anxiety and depression.
It notes 16.3 million people, about one-third of the nation, live in areas where there is a mental health professional shortage.
In March, 2022 the Biden Administration announced a strategy to address the growing problem which included the incorporation of $700 million for more professional training, building more system capacity for specialists to enter the field, and introducing the nationwide 9-8-8 emergency call number for those in mental health crisis.
After the meeting, Sununu met with the press to answer questions which included his decision to not seek another term in office.
He was asked what his priorities would be for the next 18 months left in his term.
“A lot to manage, whether you are talking about the licensing reciprocity that we have done, making sure the funds and the formula get implemented in the right way on education, making sure that the Medicaid rates stuff we did actually follows through. And then just the operation of the actual systems, right?
“So when you talk about mental health. What’s happening here in Dover? What’s happening in Manchester, what is happening in Pittsburg, N.H.? That is nothing where you just kind of check a box and say ‘hey, we designed a new system, we got some new programs going and you walk away from it. You’ve got to stay right on top of it, in terms of management. That’s never changed for seven years and it won’t change for the next 18 months.”
Sununu said he has never said one issue is a higher priority than another.
But he did say mental health especially around kids is important.
“Bringing more employees in, which is the reciprocity piece. Once those rules go through in the next few months, I think the reciprocity of licensure that we did, in certification in New Hampshire is going to be a phenomenal benefit to us that frankly will probably be emulated across 49 other states,” he said.
“You can have the best ideas, the best programs, all the money in the world if you don’t have the people, it doesn’t work.”