Since the pandemic, mental health issues for both children and adults have increased, creating a widespread push for online access to healthcare.
As a result, Rhode Island joined the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact, commonly known as PSYPACT. The move creates a two-way street for clinicians and clients: providers can see patients out of state and patients can see providers out of state. A 2022 law on this matter went into effect in the summer of 2023.
Other New England states like Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire have also signed on to PSYPACT, while Massachusetts reportedly hopes to do so in the future. There are close to 40 states as well as Washington, D.C., and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific, that have joined PSYPACT.
In a statement released last fall, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee praised the effort to expand treatment options for people in need of care from a psychologist.
“We are fortunate here in Rhode Island to have joined the PSYPACT along with 39 other states,” he said. “This is a compact that will benefit all Rhode Islanders and I am proud to have our state join to address critical health issues.”
The legislation for the PSYPACT partnership was introduced by Senator Alana DiMario (D- District 36) and Representative Joseph McNamara (D-District 19).
DiMario, MA, is not only a Congresswoman but also a licensed mental health counselor. For her, the move to provide greater access to mental healthcare is an important one.
She said the pandemic showed that telehealth is a valuable option, particularly for mental healthcare, and patients should not be restricted from its use.
Telehealth allows patients the continuity of seeing their provider should they move to a different state or, as a student, head back home for school breaks. Telehealth, DiMario said, also cuts down on long wait times for in-person sessions.
“We’ve seen an increase in suicidality for children and adolescents since the pandemic,” she explained. “Wait times are a big issue and accessing the proper level of care. When children and adolescents need a comprehensive evaluation, wait times can be really long. Families I see have been four to six months out and if you have got a child who is struggling, that time could cover the majority of an academic year.”
Joseph Trunzo, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of psychology at Bryant University, is the newly-elected president of the Rhode Island Psychological Association.
He spoke favorably about PSYPACT, echoing the convenience for patients having continuance of care with providers should they move either permanently or temporarily. And yet, some people prefer in-person sessions.
“If the pandemic taught us anything, [telehealth] can work and it’s certainly better than having nothing at all,” he said. “But it’s a matter of personal preference and it’s nice to have that option. I have a mix of clients. I moved them all online during the pandemic. But since then, I’ve had some return to in-person and others who have stayed online.”
Trunzo noted the pandemic accelerated what was already trending: rising cases of depression, anxiety, suicidality, and substance abuse.
For kids, their formative years were severely impacted socially and academically.
Trunzo believes telehealth will continue indefinitely.
“Online therapy is here to stay. There’s no question about that,” he said. “I assume, however, there will be further developments in it, like better platforms, easier access, and better confidentiality.”
When DiMario was asked if there are any plans for mental healthcare in Rhode Island, she said legislators hope to implement a Counseling Compact and a Social Worker Compact.
The state is also looking at increasing its reimbursement rate and ways to build up the pipeline of professionals. Recruitment and retention of qualified staff is a large focus.
“We are facing community mental health centers that cannot take on interns. Lots of grads end up going to neighboring states to be part of that workforce,” she said. “And, I’m proposing a pilot program to pay off student loans for social workers for a period of time in exchange for work as a means of recruitment and retention.”