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Texas Mental Health Counselors Waiting Months To Be Licensed

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - From a lack of access to treatment to a shortage of beds at state hospitals, advocates say there's a major mental health crisis in Texas.

But Consumer Justice found thousands of qualified people who want to help, can't. Amanda, a mother of three in Plano, is one of them.

"The official title is licensed professional counselor, and I just wanted to help people," she said.

She went to college at UT Dallas, graduate school at UT Southwestern Medical and completed 3,000 hours as an intern before applying to become an LPC.

"We submit to the state and then we just wait." She did not want to use her last name for fear of retribution by the state board," she said.

That wait can be several months long, according to records obtained from the state's Health and Human Services Commission. That means even after years of schooling and training, interns must wait months to be officially approved and get a new job. During that time, they must pay a supervisor to oversee them for four hours a month, while struggling to find employment. Many companies will not hire LPC interns without proof of licensure.

"Supervision is a fee because of the liability," said Aeysha Holman. "If they do something wrong, the person is coming after me and my license." Holman supervises several interns for $50 an hour. She says she's heard of supervisors charging up to $250. Some of her interns waited eight months to become licensed.

The delay can be traced back to Austin, where, as of March, HHS had just one person dedicated to processing applications. In a report released that same month, the Sunset Commission said the state was "failing to regulate the profession and putting Texans at risk."

The report found the professional counselor board takes around 107 days to process a license, and that a year of post-doctoral supervision is an "unnecessary hurdle, contributing to the mental health care provider shortage in Texas." The commission says "long license approval times place practitioners in limbo, preventing them from being able to find work or potentially losing job offers."

The state's own data puts that number much higher. Consumer Justice obtained three years of LPC application information from HHS, which showed some people waiting four to six months or more for a license. The data also inaccurately showed thousands people were granted a license the same day they applied, which HHS agrees is not possible. A check of the processing times of other states shows Texas lagging behind at least half the country.

The Sunset report lists other challenges, including:

--Staff turnover. Only 29 of the 40 positions dedicated to support the behavioral health boards are filled.
--Customer service: Staff have to divide their time between processing applications and responding to inquiries.
--Resource inefficiencies: Each board (professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, social workers, psychologists) performs its own basic functions, like accounting and IT work, instead of having an umbrella agency take care of those tasks.

In March, a spokesperson for the HHS Commission said they hired two more people to help process applications, but they would need six weeks of training. Kelli Weldon says other employees are working longer hours and some temporary staff have been brought in to answer phones and file, to help ease the backlog.

Still, Holman worries it may not be enough. "I don't think it's humanly possible -- how many [applications] can you do in an eight-hour work day with a 30-minute lunch?" she asked. "Not two people, not three. It needs to be taken more seriously."

You can read the full report by the Sunset Commission here.

The Commission is schedule to make a decision about the future of the board on May 23 or 24. Click here to weigh in on this issue.

More of the HHS statement to Consumer Justice is below:

We recognize the impact that delays have on professional license applicants, and we are taking a variety of steps to resolve them. The wait time for processing LPC upgrades was approximately 4 months when the Professional Licensing and Certification Unit transferred from DSHS to HHSC on Sept. 1, 2017. For that application type, the wait time for processing is now 2.5 months. In addition to hiring three full-time licensing staff members on March 1, we are hiring four temporary staff to assist with answering the phone and filing so our trained staff can focus on processing applications. Staff is also working extended hours to reduce the backlog, and staff outside the unit have been providing assistance. A handful of our staff volunteered their time and came to work on a scheduled holiday, President's Day, to help with administrative work to free up time for trained staff.

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