Substance Abuse Care Shortage Predicted

Leaders of HHS should bring national attention to the need for building a workforce of sufficient size, the committee that wrote the new Institute of Medicine report recommended.

Obtaining diagnosis and treatment for mental health conditions and substance abuse problems will be challenging for millions of baby boomers unless a major effort is made to recruit the medical professionals to provide them, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine. Its authors said the scope of this problem is so great that no one approach or isolated changes in a few federal agencies or programs could solve it.

"There is a conspicuous lack of national attention to ensuring that there is a large enough health care work force trained to care for older adults with mental health and substance use conditions," said committee Chairman Dr. Dan G. Blazer, MD, Ph.D., the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and vice chair for faculty development at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "These conditions are relatively common, they can be costly, and they can have profound negative impacts on people's health and well-being. This report is a wake-up call that we need to prepare now or our older population and their extended families will suffer the consequences."

The panel estimates 5.6 million to 8 million older Americans have mental health conditions or problems stemming from substance misuse or abuse.

The report recommends redesigning Medicare and Medicaid payment rules to guarantee coverage of counseling, care management, and other services central to treating both of these. It also says leaders of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should bring national attention to the job of building a workforce sufficiently large that is trained in geriatric mental health and substance abuse care.

Members of the Committee on the Mental Health Workforce for Geriatric Populations included Frederick Blow, Ph.D., director of the National Serious Mental Illness Treatment Resource Center for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Robyn Stone, M.P.A., Dr.PH, senior vice president of research at LeadingAge in Washington, D.C.

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