Thousands protest mental health provider changes in Lansing


LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — An estimated 10,000 mental health providers in Michigan say they are in danger of no longer being able to help as many as 200,000 patients because of a new rule proposed by the state.

Friday, those workers filled Lansing to let the rulemakers know the impact of their decision.

Licensed professional counselors say they are at the frontlines of providing mental health services to people in every community in the state.

But they say a new set of rules proposed by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs would leave many with no access to metal health care in the midst of a mental health crisis.

“At a time when 1.3 million Michigan residents have some form of mental illness, at a time when 55% of Americans with mental illness receive no treatment, and at a time when one of the principle barriers is a lack of available providers, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is proposing a measure that could effectively eliminate 10,000 available providers,” Stephen Craig, director of counselor education at Western Michigan University, testified Friday.

LARA announced changes to rules governing LPCs this summer that effectively eliminated their ability to diagnose and use their methods to counsel people with mental health issues.

With the changes, LPCs could not provide the necessary diagnostic and treatment options accepted by insurance companies, meaning that only people who can pay out of pocket would have access to their services.

An estimated 10,000 LPCs serve between 100,000 and 300,000 clients in Michigan. Many of those clients are teens and young adults who mostly use insurance to pay for the counseling.

“We’re the people that try to keep people out of the hospital. We try to keep people off of drugs and alcohol when they have an addiction, and we try to help people recover from post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Paul Krauss, an LPC in Grand Rapids. “We treat our patients with respect and we want to help them recover and get out into the world again.”

Friday in Lansing, about 2,000 LPCs showed up at LARA’s hearing. The agency’s meetings typically attract fewer than a dozen people, according to staff.

The number of people who gathered to address the LARA board exceeded the hearing room’s legal capacity, forcing people to wait in a line that ran out the door and down the block.

The theme of the speakers was the same: LPCs are a vital part of the mental health care system in Michigan, they are extensively trained and their elimination would only put an already a strained system into crisis.

Roughly half of Michigan’s community health clinic counselors are LPCs.

“For our clients, their family, their communities, the criminal justice system, the school system, it impacts everyone,” said Kristen Delange, an LPC specializing in teen substance abuse.

LARA spokespeople deny the claim that the LPCs will not be able to practice and say the rule changes are needed to clarify the training and to comply with federal standards. LARA denies it will take away LPC’s ability to treat patients.

“About 30% of the mental health system will be wiped out by this decision, so they have to take that into consideration. But they’re not. They’re only looking at the rules,” said James Blundo, executive director of the Michigan Mental Health Counselors Association.

Most social workers and psychological oppose the LARA rules but the Michigan Psychological Association supports increases in training and standards like those proposed by LARA.

Michigan House Bill 4325 is supported by LPCs and would codify requirements, but the measure has only made it to a committee so far, and it’s unclear if it will be signed by the governor before the LARA rules take effect.

“These people you see here today are the frontline of mental health care in the state. You take them out and you take our mental health crisis that already exists and you just blow it up into a huge crisis. That’s what’s gonna happen,” said Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, who is sponsoring HB 4325.

That bill is expected to come out of committee next week. Miller says Friday’s gathering shows the urgency to swiftly move it through. He believes legislators are getting the message and HB 4325 can be passed in time, based on what he saw Friday.
“This is incredible, this is so encouraging, I’ve never been in a space with so many like-minded people,” said Heidi Bott, an LPC who specializes in domestic, gender-based and sexual violence at the YWCA of West Central Michigan.

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