IOM: ‘Serious shortages’ in mental health resources loom for baby boomers

Major national efforts are needed to increase the mental health workforce and train them in the mental health and substance abuse issues that relate to seniors, a new Institutes of Medicine (IOM) report warns.

About 1 in 5 older Americans has a mental health or substance abuse condition. But as millions more Americans turn 65 over the next decade, “serious workforce shortages” will be ahead for senior-specific mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment unless action is taken now, according to today’s announcement.

The report, The Mental Health and Substance Use Workforce for Older Adults: In Whose Hands?, calls for “a redesign of Medicare and Medicaid payment rules to guarantee coverage of counseling, care management, and other types of services crucial for treating mental health conditions and substance use problems so that clinicians are willing to provide this care,” noting that limited reimbursement levels and Medicare/Medicaid coverages are holding back the care that seniors need.

Other recommendations included student loan assistance/forgiveness for those who wish to pursue a geriatric mental healthcare career or to retrain in the field.

The expanded workforce will need specific training in geriatric mental health, since the body reacts to substances differently as it ages, the report adds. Seniors also have age-related and mobility-related issues that can result in depression.

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