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NH Bills Aim to Address Mental-Health Worker Shortage

New Hampshire faces a shortage of mental-health and drug-abuse professionals. (griefrecoverycenter/Pixabay)
New Hampshire faces a shortage of mental-health and drug-abuse professionals. (griefrecoverycenter/Pixabay)
March 12, 2019

CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire state Senate is expected to pass a bill on Thursday to implement an ambitious, 10-year mental-health plan.

Among other things, Senate Bill 292 recommends increasing jobs in the mental-health sector. Lynn Stanley, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said NASW supports this bill and the plan. She said she appreciates that the plan includes loan assistance for mental-health workers.

"One of the ways to encourage people to enter the field is to look at loan-repayment programs, loan forgiveness, scholarships,” Stanley said, “because students are coming out of graduate programs with a tremendous amount of debt."

The bill, mostly sponsored by Democrats, asks the state to implement the plan within two years of its passing and finalization. If it becomes law, the expected cost will be more than $12 million dollars in 2020.

Another New Hampshire bill aims to ease licensing requirements for mental-health and drug-abuse professionals to encourage more people to enter these fields. Republican state Rep. Jack Flanagan of Hillsborough is the primary sponsor of House Bill 239. Flanagan got the idea for the bill after talking to people who found it hard to complete their supervision hours for licensure.

"They had a master's in social work, they worked in the local school district, and they were complaining how difficult it was to get the hours and a supervisor willing to work hours,” Flanagan said. “The other fact was that we're dealing with this opioid situation in the state of New Hampshire."

The bill recently was amended to not include a significant reduction in supervision hours, as was first proposed. Now, it just makes the location for supervision meetings more convenient.

Stanley said she’s glad the reduction in supervision hours no longer is part of HB 239.

"Licensure for mental-health professionals, including social workers, is to protect clients,” she said. “It's not about what's easier for social workers and other clinicians. It's about protecting clients."

She thinks the licensing requirements are necessary to ensure mental-health and drug-abuse professionals treat their patients responsibly. A vote on HB 239 has not yet been scheduled.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - NH