WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act, legislation to address the severe mental health care provider shortages and improve access to affordable services at community health centers. The bill would provide new incentives to help bolster the mental health workforce, and establish a new program that would provide federal grants to community health centers to help them recruit, hire, and employ qualified mental health professionals who are fluent in a language other than English.
“Mental health services must be readily available to anyone who needs them,” said Heinrich. “The Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act will give our community health centers the tools they need to recruit and hire qualified mental health professionals to address our state’s severe provider shortage, while also improving the delivery of services so that language barriers don’t prevent New Mexicans from receiving the health care they need.”
In New Mexico, 56% of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment due to extreme mental health care provider shortages. New Mexico has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, with a rate that is consistently 50% higher than the national average. Suicide is currently the leading cause of death among 15–17-year-olds in New Mexico, and especially high for Indigenous and LGBTQIA+ youth.
According to the US Census, at least 34% of New Mexicans five years or older speak a language other than English at home. According to the Department of Justice, 10% of New Mexico’s population are considered to have Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and would therefore be better served in a language other than English.
The Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act would:
- Establish a four-year pilot program to provide additional benefits to mental health professionals who commit to serving in specific Federally Qualified Health Centers. This pilot initiative would be unique in that it seeks to match mental health professionals with community health centers, preferably at which at least 20% of the patients are best served in a language other than English.
- Mental health professionals who participate in the program would receive additional annual loan repayment compensation. Even greater loan repayment compensation would be available to those who are fluent in a language other than English, needed by the health center at which they commit to serve.
- Establish a new grant program that would provide federal grants to community health centers to help them recruit, hire, and employ qualified mental health professionals who are fluent in a language other than English. Community health centers around the country are struggling to hire mental health clinicians as they cannot offer competitive salaries, compared to private hospitals. This grant would be key in helping the health centers close that gap. Any community health center would be eligible to apply; however, the bill specifies that preference is given to those health centers at which at least 20% of the patients are best served in a language other than English. The bill would also direct that a portion of the grants be made available for outreach purposes to inform communities about the mental health services available at community health centers.
The legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The legislation is led by U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The legislation has received the support of the Association of Black Psychologists, the National Latina/o Psychological Association, and the Society of Indian Psychologists.
"We are glad to see expanded efforts to improve access to care and efforts to break down barriers to accessing mental health care” said Association of Black Psychologists President Donell Barnett, Ph.D.
A copy of the full bill text of the Mental Health Workforce and Language Access Act can be found here.