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California has shortage of mental health clinicians. Here's how UC is going to change that

Sacramento Bee - 1/30/2020

Jan. 30--Three nursing schools within the University of California system announced they are teaming up with the California Health Care Foundation to train and certify 300 nurse practitioners to work in the psychiatric mental health field through an online program aimed at addressing a shortage of providers.

The new program, which launches later this year, would nearly double the number of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners currently in the pipeline, according to UC officials. UC Davis, UCSF and UCLA would graduate roughly 300 psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners by 2025. Psychiatrists and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners have the distinction of being the only mental health professionals who can prescribe medications to individuals who have behavioral health issues.

"This program could not come at a more important time," said Dr. Tom Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, in a prepared statement. "California faces an unprecedented mental health crisis, and right now, we simply do not have the workforce in place to address it."

UC President Janet Napolitano co-chaired a panel of top medical experts appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to identify the coming workforce challenges in the medical field and make recommendations on how to address it. The group, known as the California Future Health Workforce Commission, offered their guidance last year. One key suggestion: Increase the number of psychiatric professionals who can serve rural and underserved urban populations.

California Health Care Foundation provided a $1.5 million grant to develop, design and launch this five-year training program. Tuition and fees will sustain the estimated $24.6 million cost of the program, according to a UC news release.

The program, aimed at professionals who already have their master's degrees, will start in the fall of this year with 40 students, and an additional 65 students would be recruited for the successive years.

"As California's population grows, further diversifies and ages, the need for health care professionals will become more acute, including those working in mental health," Napolitano stated in the news release. "I believe this new funding is an important step toward growing the state's health care workforce and bringing training to underserved regions.

Insel, who is Newsom's principal adviser on mental health, noted in his remarks that he had traveled around California, listening to people talking about their challenges in getting or delivering mental health care.

"Every community needs more health professionals who have the specialized training this program would provide," Insel stated.

About 20 percent of California residents live in areas where there is a severe shortage of mental health providers, federal data show. These are communities where there is only one psychiatric provider to care for every 30,000 residents, earning a designation as mental health professional shortage areas from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

In a recent report, UCSF's Healthforce Center projected that California will experience a 34 percent decline in the number of psychiatrists by 2028 and, in 10 years, will have 41 percent fewer psychiatrists than needed.


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