COLORADO SPRINGS — State legislatures are making a big investment on mental health among Coloradans. Right now, they're deciding how to spend $450,000,000 of federal COVID-19 relief funding.
News5 spoke to Dr. Mark Mayfield, the founder and CEO of Mayfield Counseling Centers, located in Colorado Springs. He weighed in on how some of that money could be beneficial in helping mental health professionals and clients seeking help.
Dr. Mayfield says because of the COVID-19 pandemic the need for services has spiked, and Colorado is also seeing a huge shortage of mental health professionals. That's where this funding can help.
"We've always seen a workforce shortage in Colorado from a mental health standpoint. At my office, for the first time in our history, we have a waiting list. We've always prided ourselves on answering the phone and getting people scheduled that same week or within seven days, and we just can't do that anymore because of the need. Our phone is ringing off the hook," said Dr. Mayfield, who mentioned this is mostly due to lack of space in his office not allowing him to hire more people.
Dr. Mayfield also referenced the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy's new advisory to highlight the urgent need to address the nation's youth mental health crisis. It was issued on December 7.
According to Mental Health America, Colorado also has the highest rate of adult mental illness and lowest access to care in the entire country.
"I think it's great that we're bringing this to our attention. I just want people to understand that this need is only going to get greater, so if we can figure out how to move forward in a positive way now, it sets the stage for success," said Dr. Mayfield.
According to an article and investigation by the Colorado News Collaborative, nearly 40% of Coloradans also live in an area with a shortage of behavioral health workers. The article also stated that since the pandemic hit, youth mental health emergency room visits jumped by 70%, and calls to statewide crisis hot lines rose by 40%.
$450 million dollars in federal aid could help address some of those issues.
"There needs to be some part of the state that says we see you, we appreciate you, you've really helped a lot of people through this pandemic, and we want to find ways to take care of you," said Dr. Mayfield. "I'm really grateful for this funding and I'm really grateful for our governor and the government that's really putting behavioral health in the forefront of our need. I think they understand the issues that we're facing."
Dr. Mayfield says being a mental health professional can be a high-stress job, and a job that many people are now leaving. His small office schedules between 18,000 and 20,000 appointments a year, and takes nearly 50 phone calls a week. But one of the biggest issues providers are seeing, he says, is mental health parity.
"We're not getting reimbursed as mental health providers equally across the board from different health care providers, that have similar education and similar experience. So where one healthcare provider might be reimbursed at $120 for a session, we're getting reimbursed at $60," said Dr. Mayfield. "We've had a lot of people in this profession stop taking medicaid, because medicaid doesn't reimburse well in this state. They're losing providers left and right because they can't sustain a business. This $450 million could really help boost access and then also take care of mental health providers."
Dr. Mayfield also serves on the Colorado Counseling Association as the president-elect. He says the governing council is working to get a bill introduced that looks at mental health parity. He mentioned in order for mental health professionals to take care of clients, staff must be taken care of also.
"I love what we do and everybody here loves what we do. Everybody I talk to they love it. It's just, there's those challenges that we come up against," said Dr. Mayfield. "It's just a part of the game and figuring out how to be an advocate and a voice for the profession."
Ideas are also being shared about providing incentives to grow the task force. For example., offering opportunities starting in high school and college like career fairs and job shadowing.
For more information about Mayfield Counseling Centers, click here.