Panel Studies Unlicensed Mental Health Workers
Price, Marie, THE JOURNAL RECORD
A new law intended to close a loophole allowing unlicensed individuals to perform some mental health services under state contract needs to be tightened, mental health professionals have told a joint interim study committee.
The law, Senate Bill 1333 by Sen. Angela Monson, and Rep. Debbie Blackburn, both D-Oklahoma City, expands licensing exemptions from the Psychologists Licensing Act and the Licensed Professional Counselors Act to include services provided by employees of a private nonprofit agency providing counseling under contract with state agencies.
The measure was prompted by an attorney general's opinion issued in March 1997 that said an exemption from the psychologists act for state employees does not extend to individuals employed by private entities contracting with state agencies. Prior to issuance of the opinion, the law was interpreted as applying to these contracting employees.
Monson said state agencies told lawmakers the opinion would make it difficult for them to continue to provide services. However, she added, since SB 1333 was enacted some questions about its breadth have been raised.
"Our intent was to fairly narrowly define who would get the exemption," she said.
The senator said the intent was for SB 1333 to apply only to private agencies with state contracts as of the date the opinion was issued, and only contracts with delineated state agencies, for certain behavioral health services.
Although lawmakers, agency officials and mental health professional organizations worked together to craft the bill, Monson said she realized improvement is possible, and asked for the interim study.
"It is still not a perfect bill," she said.
Dr. Larry McCauley, who chairs the State Board of Examiners of Psychologists and sits on an advisory board to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, said credentialing of individuals with degrees unrelated to psychology or another mental health field with minimal experience or training could lead to misdiagnosis and improper treatment.
"You have to decide is that what you want to do," McCauley said. "This bill opens that door for this kind of behavior."
Dr. Tom Vaughn, also with the psychologists' board, agreed.
"Our concern is unqualified people delivering services," he said. …