Matsikoudis bill easing mental health practitioner shortage passes committee

Matsikoudis bill easing mental health practitioner shortage passes committee

Assemblywoman Michele Matsikoudis

TRENTON, N.J. – Aiming to increase access to mental health services, the Assembly Health Committee on Monday advanced a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Michele Matsikoudis to enter New Jersey into an interstate counseling compact that provides for licensure reciprocity.

“Following the pandemic, which increased the demand for mental health services, the importance of increasing the number of mental health professionals has been met with a new urgency. As the rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety and suicide continue to climb, so does the need for a permanent fix to the practitioner shortages that are exacerbating this crisis,” Matsikoudis (R-Union) said. 

Matsikoudis said the counseling compact would build on the success of New Jersey’s temporary reciprocity licensure program that helped provide mental health services to more than 30,000 New Jersey patients during the first year of the pandemic. The state discontinued the emergency program in August 2022.

“Reciprocity licensure programs decrease a regulatory burden on mental health professionals while allowing established patients to have a continuity of care plan if they move out of state, which is especially helpful to veterans and their spouses. It also opens up access to new patients who otherwise may have been limited in their ability to make an appointment with a counselor because of geography,” Matsikoudis said.

The measure (A5311) enters New Jersey into a compact with 16 other states to allow licensed counselors who practice and reside within member states to provide services in the compact’s member states via telehealth without the need to obtain multiple licenses. New Jersey joins Wisconsin and South Carolina as other states that currently have legislation pending to join the compact.

“This bill is about removing the barriers for professionals and patients to put New Jersey on a path to better mental health,” Matsikoudis said.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1.1 million adults in New Jersey have a mental health condition. In February 2021, more than 42% of adults in New Jersey reported symptoms of anxiety or depression and nearly half of them were unable to get needed counseling or therapy. Among young people ages 12 to 17 who have depression, 61.4% of them did not receive any care in the last year. 

“An interstate counseling compact moves the needle on the shortage of mental health professionals in a meaningful and safe way,” Matsikoudis added. 

From a safety perspective, being member of the compact can facilitate shared information concerning discipline or investigations, when and if necessary.