COLUMBUS, Ohio — A state boundary line shouldn’t be what stops someone from getting the best help they can get, or at least that's what the Ohio Legislature decided Wednesday.
The state will soon join the Counseling Compact, which allows all licensed mental health counselors to practice in member states, either in person or by telehealth.
Senate Bill 204, sponsored by Hudson Republican state Sen. Kristina Roegner, passed just as Mental Health Awareness Month comes to an end. The bill passed the Senate and House unanimously.
With the pandemic causing one of the worst mental health crises in recent history. Dr. Sean Gorby thinks joining the compact is a great decision.
"[The pandemic] kind of held a magnifying glass up to [mental health,]" the clinical counselor said. "It kind of said, 'Hey, these things are important to attend to, and if not properly attended to, they can become really detrimental to our overall health.'"
Now that telehealth has become more normalized, the state boundaries and borders are kind of becoming insignificant, he added.
It was the workforce shortage, combined with the need for more mental health care, that inspired her to make a change, Roegner said.
"Counselors play a vital role in addressing the mental health crisis for individuals and also of our state and nation," she said. "So anything we can do to help get them out there to provide their services, you know, we should all agree on getting that done."
The compact establishes an interstate commission made up of delegates from the states to administer the compact. It also creates a licensure data system for the member state boards to communicate, including disciplinary sanctions.
"It really does benefit not only the providers, but also the patients increase access to care," the Hudson lawmaker said.
The bill has requirements for some to be able to practice:
- Must have a valid license in their home state (which must be part of compact)
- Have a good record on the license
- Pass an FBI Fingerprint Criminal Background Check
- Meet any legal requirements for the member state someone is trying to work in
- Complete any additional education requirements
Ohio is known for having great healthcare, since the state requires more specific education and experience than many other states to get licensed, Gorby said.
"There's no question that there is a workforce crisis in the field of mental and behavioral health care, and I'm not ignorant of that," he added. "The thing that I love about the compact is it will increase hopefully workforce without deteriorating the standards of the quality of care that we're able to provide."
The good thing about this bill, he added, is that the Compact will have regulations in place that align with Ohio’s standards.
"With all the great resources here in Ohio, we'll be able to be expanded and treat a wide variety within Ohio, but then also outside of Ohio," he added. "In turn, what this also does is allow us to recruit really, really great providers that are outside the state boundaries of Ohio to be able to provide services to Ohioans here."
Ohio would be the 11th state — making care accessible for people in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, Utah and West Virginia.
The people who'll be most helped by this are those who are more transient, like active duty military, college students and even snowbirds, who travel from Ohio down to warm places like Florida for the winter.
This bill could still help anybody moving in or out of the state, which the senator said could even recruit more Ohioans.
"Ultimately I feel like we'll have a better world through this process of providing care," Gorby said.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s team says the bill should be signed within the next few weeks.