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SACREMENTO. Senate Bill 964 by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to revitalize mental health professionals was passed by the Assembly Health Committee in a unanimous bipartisan vote today. Now he will be heard in the Higher Education Committee of the Assembly.

SB 964 is increasing California’s investment in its behavioral health workforce to retain employees, increase behavioral health workforce, and support behavioral health workers who are facing significant increases in demand for services.

“As California works to expand access to mental health care, we must strengthen and expand our mental health workforce,” said Senator Viner. “Mental health professionals have an incredibly hard job and burn out. We don’t pay them enough. We need to create stronger incentives for people to enter this vital area and stay a part of it. SB 964 will support mental health workers and strengthen this critical workforce.”

SB 964 is an important investment in our mental health professionals. The legislation establishes the Behavioral Health Workforce Retention and Recovery Fund to provide employment and performance bonuses, pay raises or bonuses, overtime pay and hazard pay for mental health workers.

SB 964 is also creating a fellowship program for students in Masters of Social Work (MSW) programs who specialize in public behavioral health. Students will be eligible for a scholarship of $18,500 per year for up to two years and will be required to complete two years of continuous full-time work at a state mental health agency.

In addition, SB 964:

Expands access to culturally competent health care by including Peer Support Professionals in the State Medi-Cal program and creating a State Certification Body to certify such professionals.

Develops accelerated social work programs with new behavioral health courses.

Creates new career paths for colleagues and community healthcare professionals by developing an accelerated program from certification to associate, bachelor’s and master’s programs.

California Behavioral Health Licensing Requirements need to be looked into to remove unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles that prevent well-trained and talented workers from entering the field and performing at the highest level.

A comprehensive analysis of the mental health workforce landscape is required to further develop employee retention strategies.

Develops grants and scholarships for Master’s and dual Master’s and Doctoral level students wishing to pursue a degree in behavioral health-related fields, excluding social workers.

Creates a community behavioral health pipeline that partners community behavioral health delivery with high schools and community colleges.

Requires LGBTQ+ competency training for licensed and unlicensed substance use disorder and mental health service providers.

Specialized training is required for service providers whose native language is not English to improve their scheduling and documentation skills.

Strengthens support for substance use disorder counselors and trainers through the establishment of programs including, but not limited to: tuition and exam preparation assistance, fellowships and fellowships.

Scholarship Funding for New Staff Training Program: Primary Addiction Health Care Provider Education and Training (PC-TEAM), one-year fellowship at the University of California, Irvine.

Provides financial assistance to non-profit organizations/public sector to support paid field training and increase the number of places for pre-licensed individuals who receive their clinical hours for licensing in the form of grants or direct payments.

Authorizes the California Loan Repayment Program to increase the number of premiums provided to primary care providers providing mental health or group care services and mental health service providers.

Establishes a tuition and bursary reimbursement program to encourage licensed mental health professionals and health professionals to take courses on substance use disorders.

Establishes the Behavioral Health Education Partnership Program to strengthen and expand collaboration among behavioral health schools to increase placements for students working in the field of behavioral health and develop a specialized curriculum focused on working in the public health service delivery system mental health.

Currently, only one third of Californians living with mental illness receive the help they need. One of the main reasons for this failure is the lack of mental health professionals. Today, California’s 31 counties with a “strong need” for mental health services are reporting a workforce shortage.

With healthcare workers retiring en masse and mental health needs skyrocketing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the behavioral health workforce has gone from a problem to a crisis. Despite a growing need for quality mental health and addiction treatment, facilities across the state are closing due to a shortage of workers. When workers can instead, for example, become traveling nurses and receive a $100,000 signing bonus, it becomes even harder for hospitals and other agencies to retain staff. And without key mental health professionals to provide this essential help, people with mild mental health symptoms can develop severe mental illness.

People living in rural, linguistically and ethnically diverse communities and LGBTQ+ communities are highly undervalued when it comes to health care, and this is especially true for mental health care. And those suffering from severe mental illness are often forced to cycle between hospital emergency rooms, prisons and city streets due to a lack of specialists and resources to provide mental health care.

SB 964 is sponsored by the Steinberg Institute. Senators Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) and Anna Caballero (D-Merced) are the principal co-sponsors of SB 964, with Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) a co-sponsor. Assembly Members Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), Adam Gray (D-Merced), Mark Levin (D-Marin County), Mike Gipson (D-Carson), and Marie Waldron (R- Escondido) are co-authors.

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