Amid provider shortage, Arizona Legislature
adjusts list of qualified mental health professionals
By Demi Dupavillon | Special to the Digital Free Press
Amid a major healthcare provider shortage, a new state law adds psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners to the list of health professionals authorized to conduct psychiatric assessments of minors and make subsequent recommendations regarding appropriate services.
Signed into law on April 6, Arizona House Bill 2098 states that children exhibiting concerning behavior do not have to be an official hospital patient for conclusions to be valid. Psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners can decide whether or not the child is a danger to themselves or others.
Amid a nationwide youth mental health crisis, there is a major behavioral and mental health care provider shortage in the state. The more people qualified to diagnose and assess these kids, the faster the nursing community can address the shortage and get young people the help that they need. Kathy Busby testified on behalf of the Arizona Nurses Association before the House and Human Services Committee in January. She supports the bill because it gives practitioners more resources to work with, she says.
According to Ms. Busby, there have been occasions where nurse practitioners have assessed a patient, but the court turned them down since they aren’t a psychologist, psychiatrist or physician.
“What we are seeing right now is that there is a real shortage of professionals who can do these assessments,” Ms. Busby said. “Mental health nurse practitioners are already doing this in the adult system, so they are well qualified. Let’s add them to a statute so they have more resources. I think it will improve the system, as they certainly have more than adequate training.”
A total of 57.8% of Arizonans ages 12 to 17 who have depression did not receive any care in the last year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“Throughout the behavioral health provider community, psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners often take the lead role in assessing the child’s mental health,” said Melissa Compian, legislative liaison for the Arizona Department of Child Safety. “They are adequately trained to perform such assessments and make such recommendations.”
Ms. Compian and Ms. Busby both believe this addition will help ease the stress on families and psychologists alike. They didn’t have psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioners when the statute was first drafted, Ms. Busby said.
Arizona Legislature adjusts list of qualified mental health professionals
But now, more people need treatment.
The U.S. Surgeon General posted an advisory in 2021 to raise awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic’s unprecedented impact on the mental health of America’s youth and families. The rates of young people struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide have increased over the past decade.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness gives context to how bad the situation really is, including that 7 in 10 youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental health condition and nearly 40% of people in Arizona live in a community that does not have enough mental health professionals.
According to a 2022 report from the Kids Count Data Book, Arizona is 44th in the nation when it comes to economic well-being, health, and family and community support. The new statute provides procedures for an entity, meaning child welfare departments and agencies, to secure inpatient psychiatric acute care services or residential treatment services for children under their care.
Indy Dimaano-Simmons, an Arizona State University nursing student, shared her support for healthcare provider collaboration in addressing the shortage. “Adding these practitioners to evaluate children helps the healthcare provider community tremendously,” Ms. Dimaano-Simmons said. “People showing signs of mental illness should get help from any healthcare provider that is available.”
Editor’s note: Ms. Dupavillon is a journalism student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication.