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Health Experts: 10K more mental health clinicians to California's schools is easier said than done

Supt. Tony Thurmond unveiled his plan Wednesday to add 10,000 more mental health professionals into the California school system at a cost of at least $250 million.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California School Superintendent Tony Thurmond announced Wednesday he is going to work with the legislature and the governor to add 10,000 more mental health clinicians into the school system. He said it’ll cost at least $250 million. 

The big question is where are these 10,000 clinicians going to come from? The entire country, let alone California, is facing a shortage of mental health professionals.

The pandemic shined a light on the importance of mental health, so while the intentions are good, it's not necessarily practical.  

"We think what people are experiencing right now is probably the most difficult time period people will experience in their lifetime," Thurmond said. 

He listed off several new proposals. 

"I’m pleased to share with you today that we will be pursuing a program that will be able to help us have 10,000 more mental health clinicians in the state of California," he said. 

It's an idea that sounds better on paper to some.  

"We look at our psychiatrist, psychologist or licensed clinicians, psychiatric, mental health nurse practitioners, all of those we're talking about maybe we have about 80 to 90,000 in the state. So off that, a 10,000 increase is more than a 10% increase," said Janet Coffman. 

Coffman is a professor of health policy at the University of California San Francisco. 

Part of the proposed program will entice mental health students to enter the school system through scholarships and grants. 

“The California State University system, which trains the majority of social workers,... are already at capacity," Coffman said. "They may not have enough faculty, enough clinical training sites to take on more students.”

Her research predicts California will have a shortage of 7,000 mental health professionals by 2028. 

Thurmond is determined to get it done either through the Governor's proposed budget or through independent legislation. 

The governor will release his budget proposal within the next five days, this could already be included in it.

"All these proposals that you heard today, you’ve heard me mention today, we hope that they would be in the budget, but whether they are or they’re not, we intend to introduce legislation for each and every one of them," Thurmond said.

Janet Coffman adds that there also needs to be an incentive for these mental health clinicians to go into the school system vs. the private sector, like competitive pay. 

We know California has an estimated budget surplus of $31 billion dollars. The state could do it if it wanted to. Coffman said it’s about the lack of bodies and return on investment. 


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