Addressing mental health and substance abuse in the state of Utah is a growing concern. The Davis Behavioral Health Receiving Center is a new program in Davis County that is focusing solely on the initial assessment and recommendation of people in this population.
There is growing attention from the state legislature as evidenced by the recent enactment of House Bill 32, which provided more than $23 million in funds for programs such as this (McKellar, 2020). Several additional counties are starting similar programs in the state to extend crisis diversion to statewide populations (Davis & Glas, 2020).
Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) provide a solution to the growing need for mental health professionals. It is estimated that the number of mental health providers will need to double in the next 15 years to accommodate the rising need of the mental health and substance use populations in Utah (Imlay, 2019).
As of 2017, the Utah Medical Education Council estimates that there are only 93 PMHNPs practicing in the state of Utah, with a total of over 1,400 nurse practitioners (2017). This is a field that could be easily increased with reduced PMHNP licensure requirements that are mandated by the state and state-sponsored education reimbursement programs.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners identifies several needs that are fulfilled by PMHNPs, primarily the ability to diagnose and manage the needs of mental health and substance use clients across all ages (2019). The ability to treat these populations appropriately impact all aspects of health care and allows for better prevention of additional medical concerns that typically arise from this population.
Sound mental health leads to improved ability to care for physical needs as well as being productive contributors to society. Currently, in Utah it takes approximately eight years for a PMHNP to become fully licensed. This includes six years of education (for a master’s level PMHNP) with an additional two years of practice under the supervision of a fully certified provider.
Other states permit full practice authority for PMHNPs after completion of their education and certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Minimal improvement in ability to practice has been shown with the required additional two years of supervised practice.
I urge the various advocacy groups that provide input to the state legislature and influence state laws regarding PMHNP licensure to eliminate the required two years of supervised practice and permit full licensure at the completion of education and national certification.
Actions such as this permits an underutilized, fully competent and educated population to reduce the mental health and substance abuse burden from traditional practitioners and the need for specialty practitioners.