Earlier today, Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order that will expand access to online mental health care during the coronavirus pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many therapists to move their practices online. Licensed counselors can provide therapy online, but counselors working towards a license usually can’t, even though they routinely provide care in-person.
Under the new executive order, the Tennessee Department of Health can grant therapists working towards a full license permission to provide online care under the supervision of a licensed counselor. The health department will post a form for requesting that permission on a department website.
Therapists have been urging Lee to temporarily suspend that law. Between 150 and 200 clients at the Refuge Center, a counseling center in Franklin, recently lost access to care because of the restriction. The new executive order could help those people get access to care.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Lee said his administration is committed to providing resources for Tennesseans struggling with mental health issues during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Last Friday, I was stunned to learn that we had eight suicides in Knox County in one day,” he said. “COVID-19 is a viral pandemic, but it is also a pandemic that can produce hopelessness in people when they're facing losing their jobs, or losing their business or losing their health or losing their parent.”
Lee also highlights several initiatives that should increase access to in-person mental health services.
He said the state has been collecting protective equipment so that mental health professionals can stay healthy when providing care in person and highlighted a new, federally-funded program that will create mobile behavioral health clinics for East and West Tennessee.
“We're going to keep a close eye on the collateral impacts like mental health,” Lee said. “As you engage with those around be sure that you are looking out not just with their physical well-being ... but look out for their mental health well-being as well.”