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Examining the Social Work Licensure Modernization Act’s Potential Impact

by Michelle Wein and Emma LaBarre


Michigan continues to face a shortage of mental health professionals. Currently, 38 percent of Michiganders with mental health conditions are not able to access the care they need, and more than 3.6 million Michigan residents live in Mental Health Care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). Mental Health Care HPSAs have only one behavioral health provider per 30,000 people in these areas (KFF, 2024). Of Michigan’s 83 counties, 64 have fewer than one provider per 300 residents.



The shortage of mental healthcare providers, such as social workers, therapists, and case managers, means Michiganders have worse access to care. The state has plans “to simplify access to care, support the growing demand for behavioral health services, and improve health and quality of life outcomes” (Michigan Department of Health & Human Services, n.d.). However, to make this vision a reality, more mental health providers are needed.


Short-term solutions for these access to care challenges brought on by provider shortages can be costly. In Marquette, at least three social workers from Pathways Community Mental Health drive 67 miles to provide therapy in Escanaba nearly every day of the week. According to the Chief Operating Officer, this commute is “grotesquely expensive” for the agency, but they do it to address the current shortage in the Upper Peninsula.

 

Social Work Licensure Modernization Act

One attempt at addressing the issue of mental health professional shortages is the Social Work Licensure Modernization Act. The Social Work Licensure Modernization Act was introduced on October 19th, 2023, as House Bills 5184 & 5185 and is sponsored by State Representatives Brabec and Edwards. If enacted, this policy would work to increase the number of licensed social workers in Michigan by decreasing some barriers to practice, specifically by removing the licensure examination requirement for newly graduated social workers and eliminating the supervision hours required for those practicing at the bachelor level. In addition to addressing barriers to licensure, this policy would also change Michigan’s levels of licensure and title acronyms to align with most other states.      

Opponents of the legislation do not believe that the examination requirement for licensure should be removed. They argue that there should be increased incentives to encourage social workers to take jobs and stay in their positions rather than lowering the standard to practice. Opponents also believe that biases and barriers to licensure would still exist, as competency and licensure readiness would be evaluated by professors and supervisors with their own biases (Gates, n.d.). While the social work community must continue to improve itself by decreasing the unchecked biases of its members, it is still important to decrease the shortage of social workers in Michigan.

 

MHC Insight’s Take

The Social Work Licensure Modernization Act can potentially increase the number of social work providers in Michigan by decreasing barriers to obtaining licensure. This should reduce the time it takes to transition social workers from education to practice. Proponents of this legislation should consider adding incentives for current social workers to stay in their positions, continue to mitigate biases within the profession and create space for more professionals to join the field.



References

Brann, M. (2023, October 19). Social Work Licensure Modernization Act introduced! NASW Michigan Chapter. https://www.nasw-michigan.org/news/655628/Social-Work-Licensure-Modernization-Act-Introduced.htm

 

 

 

Michigan Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.) Integrated behavioral and physical health care in Michigan. https://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/inside-mdhhs/legislationpolicy/future-of-behavioral-health

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