Montana Physician Assistants Could Provide More Mental Health Services with Amendment

By Zach, Benoit | The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT), January 19, 2017 | Go to article overview

Montana Physician Assistants Could Provide More Mental Health Services with Amendment


Zach, Benoit, The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)


A proposed amendment to Montana law aims to allow physician assistants working in psychiatry to provide expanded mental health services to patients.

House Bill 220, sponsored by Rep. Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings, and scheduled to be heard on Friday before the House Human Services Committee, would add properly trained and licensed physician assistants to a list of mental health professionals noted in state law.

Kaitlin Staebler is a Billings-based physician assistant at Montana Psychiatry and helped write the proposed amendment with McCarthy. State law lists physicians, licensed counselors, social workers, psychologists and advanced practice registered nurses as mental health professionals.

"I noticed as I went through my rotations in PA school, at every practice you went through, there's so much mental health treatment going on," she said. "I also learned that PAs can't be utilized as mental health professionals the way they could be."

She argues that the new amendment would expand what PAs can do, at no cost, when it comes to psychiatric services. Adding PAs would help address Montana's well-documented mental health professional shortages and the state's suicide rates that are consistently among the highest in the nation, especially when it comes to potentially high-stress situations.

As the law stands, PAs working in mental health conduct patient intakes and evaluations, help develop treatment plans, manage medication and perform follow-up, with their duty scope matching that of a supervision physician. …

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