On February 19, 2019, Texas laid the groundwork to comprehensively address its statewide mental health care shortage. Senate Bill 10, passing with near unanimous consent, amended the Health and Safety Code to include “Chapter 113: Texas Mental Health Care Consortium”. Said consortium, paneled by representatives from twelve health-related institutes of higher education, as well relevant non-profit organizations, has been tasked with strategizing solutions to the diminishing psychiatric workforce and broad challenges patients experience in accessing mental health care.
Improved Access to Care
In an effort to reduce mental health care shortage areas (M-HCSAs), Sec. 113.0152, Access to Care; Child Psychiatry Access Network and Telemedicine and Telehealth Programs directs the committee to create a statewide network of child psychiatry access centers (CPACs) within the twelve participating medical institutes. These centers are to work alongside community care providers to offer psychiatric consultations to adolescents with behavioral and/or mental health disorders. Per Sec. 113.0152, Mental Health Research Plan, the consortium is to compile and inventory available research on mental health and substance abuse disorders and delegate funding to further study in these areas.
An Expanded Physician Workforce
Sec. 113.0154, titled Psychiatry Expansion Workforce Project, aims to improve and increase psychiatric residency training via collaboration between medical colleges and community care providers. Committee members have been permitted to fund one full-time psychiatric medical director and two rotating resident positions per provider. Within the course of their duties, medical directors are expected to develop training opportunities for medical students and their residents.
From a technology perspective, SB10 emphasizes the role of telemedicine in restructuring the state’s mental health care crisis: Sec. 113.0152.b instructs the consortium to create or redefine telehealth programs at the participating medical institutes to better recognize behavioral health needs and to supply statewide care; likewise, Sec. 113.0154.b.2 necessitates the application, education, and promotion of telehealth tools by directors employed through this project.
In her testimony at SB10’s hearing, developmental-behavioral pediatrician Nhung Tran, M.D., espoused support for the bill, noting that the establishment of CPACs and their application of tele-consultation services would “support primary care pediatricians in meeting the mental health needs of children” and “free up the behavioral health workforce to address higher-acuity concerns.” Dr. Tran concluded her statement by acknowledging that while “telehealth and telemedicine are not the sole solution”, the bill “takes a critical step in leveraging technology to fill the gap … to create long-term solutions and improve care.”
Looking Towards the Future
Texas continues to have one of the largest discrepancies in mental health care access versus population of any U.S. state; however, SB10 is an informed, relevant, and dedicated approach to tackling these issues at their roots. As this project grows, physicians, institutes, and telehealth services are certain to embrace its potential, hopefully reshaping the future of care for Texas patients.