Texas is offering to help pay off student loans for new mental health professionals who choose to practice in underserved areas of the state. And there are plenty of those.
According to a report issued in February 2014 by the Texas health department, 199 of the state’s 254 counties are considered mental health professional shortage areas. Even using the most lenient federal standards for the shortage designation, authors found the vast majority of Texas counties lack a sufficient supply of psychiatrists. Just under 2,000 psychiatrists were actively licensed in the state (September 2013), which yields a ratio of 13,794 people per psychiatrist.
The new loan program aims to attract more social workers, psychologists, counselors and psychiatrists to areas where they are needed most and will cost nearly $3 million over the next two years. Those who receive loan repayment funds would also have to agree to treat Medicaid patients.
"The new student loan repayment assistance program is a significant step in the right direction for efforts to address mental health workforce shortages in underserved areas across Texas,” Greg Hansch, LMSW, public policy director for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Texas, tells Behavioral Healthcare. “To continue to chip away at this problem, the state's leadership should look to reimbursement rates, health insurance access, and incentives to train and practice.”