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News & Press: WPA News

WMS Mental and Behavioral Health Task Force

Friday, January 11, 2019  
Posted by: Sally Winkelman
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Molli Rolli, MD, WMS President and WPA Treasurer

Over the past few years the shortage of psychiatrists in Wisconsin has been intensifying. At the medical society and around the state we are seeing unprecedented momentum behind improving mental and behavioral health (MBH) in Wisconsin.

Politically some of the momentum for change in improving mental health services has been generated by the impact of the opioid crisis. This crisis helped open the eyes of non-professionals who had not previously recognized the shortage of adequate mental health services including the shortage of psychiatrists in Wisconsin. A Wisconsin Department of Health Services 2017 Needs Assessment shows that 18.8 percent of adults and 21.0 percent of children in Wisconsin have some form of mental illness that requires treatment. However, only 15 percent and 39 percent respectively, of those identified with illness ever receive care. Compounding the access concern is that, according to a report by the Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation, Wisconsin has one of the highest levels of MBH shortage areas of any state in the nation.

In March 2016 the Wisconsin Medical Society (Society) began to pull together a group of experts with the goal of improving MBH in Wisconsin. We reached out to psychiatrists and mental health providers across the state including primary care, family practice, and internal physicians. From these preliminary meetings the Society created and Mental and Behavioral Health Task Force and determined three goals for improving MBH in Wisconsin:

  • Reducing Stigma.
  • Improving Access to Care.
  • Building the Workforce.

The Society Task Force also commissioned a study from the University of Wisconsin La Follette School of Public Affairs. The study evaluated psychiatrist workforce data and trends and proposed the following recommendations for improving psychiatrist shortages and MBH in the state:

  • Expanding residency programs.
  • Expanding the utilization of integrated care models.
  • Utilizing telepsychiatry to improve access.
  • Improving parity enforcement (reimbursement parity).
  • Recruiting more psychiatrists to Wisconsin as either students, residents, or practicing psychiatrists.

Building off the study’s recommendations and resulting from the deliberations of the task force, the Society will be advocating for the following legislative and regulatory reforms in the upcoming legislative session:

  • Seeking funding to add at least two more residency slots in Wisconsin for psychiatric residency programs.
  • Become a resource for student loan forgiveness for medical school psychiatry students.
  • Create a legislative study committee to provide recommendations for a telepsychiatry pilot in Wisconsin.
  • Educate relevant stakeholders on the need for reimbursement parity enforcement, per the terms of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA).

Together the WPA and the Society need to work in harmony to advance a common set of proposals to improve MBH for all Wisconsin residents. It is paramount for psychiatrists and the broader physician community to speak with one voice on mental health, and the time for action is now. We need your help to assist us in promoting these proposals by advocating for them in your practice, discussing them with your peers, or contacting your local legislator. Our collective action will be vital to the success of these proposals and lay the foundation for future efforts to reduce mental health stigma, improve access, and grow our workforce.