Mental health workers: Proposed rules could be ‘devastating’

Michigan

GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Mental health providers warn that proposed revisions to state standards would put them out of business and decrease access to care in an already overburdened system.

“We’re talking about tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people that would be without mental health care,” Kelly Ram, a licensed professional counselor in Grandville, told News 8.

She has done the job for nine years. LPCs like her have to obtain a master’s degree, get a license from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, then undergo 3,000 hours of supervised hours work before they can go out on their own.

LPCs were first allowed to practice in Michigan in 1988.

“Up until that point, it was just the Michigan Psychological Association and social workers, so we kind of encroached on their territory,” Ram said.

Since then, they have become the most accessible form of many health care for many in Michigan. It is estimated that 150,000 people see the state’s 10,000 LPCs. They are at the front line of mental health care, especially for children and teens.

“My youngest client was 3 … and my oldest client is, I think, in their 50s,” Ram said. “When you think of mental health, you see me or someone like me.”

Ram cannot prescribe drugs like a psychiatrist. Unlike a social worker, she specializes exclusively in mental health.

Now LARA is seeking to change the scope of what the LPCs can do, particularly their ability to diagnose patients, which insurance companies require for reimbursement.

In its explanation to the Legislature, LARA said the changes are necessary because there is no federal oversight of LPCs and that the new rules would bring Michigan in line with other states.

The agency added in a Tuesday statement that the current rules for LPCs are out of date, that changes are needed to protect the public and that the updated regulations would not define the scope of an LPC’s practice.

Ram disagrees.

“They are taking away my ability to diagnose, an LPC’s ability to diagnose, and also restrict our work with our clients by taking away our counseling techniques,” Ram said.

LPCs have approved techniques to help people with personality disorders, stress disorders, anxiety and depression, and destructive behaviors.

“I deal a lot with kids who have experienced trauma in their past and working through that whole process and moving on in life,” she said. “Taking away our powers in this way would leave us to be life coaches, which is useful, but it is not what will resolve mental health issues.”

Michigan has a well-documented lack of psychiatric services.

“Let’s take out about 10,000 of the mental health providers and you’re just going to see those waitlists grow,” she said. “To dump 100,000 more clients on their caseload would be devastating to the community.”

LARA wants to have its rules in effect by November. A public hearing on the proposal will be held at 9 a.m. Oct. 4 at the G. Mennen Williams Building Auditorium, 525 W. Ottawa St., in Lansing.

LPC advocates like the Michigan Mental Health Counselors Association say Michigan is in line with other states. They are putting their support behind Michigan House Bill 4325, which calls for more continuing education and defines the scope of the services provided by LPCs. Ram said the bill would nullify the LARA changes.

“All the LPCs are hoping that that passes quickly because it would save our jobs,” Ram said.

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