How to solve the provider shortage, according to one behavioral health exec

Behavioral health is projected to be one of the fastest-growing areas in healthcare, by market value, over the next few years. Those projections may fall short, however, if provider shortages and other key obstacles aren't addressed.

Leo Flanagan, PhD, president and founder of The Center for Resilience in New York City, spoke with Becker's about how he would solve some of the most critical issues in behavioral health.

Editor's note: Content lightly edited for clarity and length. Dr. Flanagan's responses are not intended as a comprehensive solution.

Question: If you were the president or the U.S. healthcare czar, what are some things you'd do for behavioral health?

Dr. Leo Flanagan: Well first off, I wouldn't take the job.

That said, Canada is exploring creating a national license for physicians, because they have a physician shortage. We should have national licenses for healthcare professionals. 

For years [my family and I] lived in Connecticut, where I wasn't licensed. So I had to work in New York, but I lived in Connecticut, which is okay but kind of silly. But during the height of the pandemic, many states relaxed their requirements to have a license to practice there. You had to have a license, but it didn't have to be in their state.

Prior to that, let's say I had a traditional clinical practice, and I focused on ages 17 to 25. Some of my patients would go to college, and now to continue providing services to them, I would have to get a temporary permit in that state.

Well, if you have a thriving practice and that's your demographic, that's a lot of permits. And states are not necessarily happy about giving out too many permits. 

So this way, we have one national license. It would be a very clear set of requirements, one of which would be, in my view, a really targeted specialty. And it would allow people who get that license to practice remotely or on the ground across the country.

Today, when you go to disasters, you may not call yourself a psychologist or social worker, because you're not licensed in that state, and that creates a little bit of a wrinkle. By the way, in many states, if you work for a not for profit or nonprofit agency, you're not required to have a license. Does that make sense? And in many states, the term psychotherapist does not require a license at all.

But if we had a national license, it would make access much easier and much more standardized.

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