This information comes from the office of 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, who represents Giles, Lewis, Maury, Marshall counties and part of Williamson County in the State Legislature.
The 2024 Legislative Session has begun in Nashville, and we will be addressing important issues, including improvements to Tennessee’s health and health care in the state.
Mental Health Services -- To address the growing mental health crisis in the state, lawmakers have made significant investments over the years. Most recently, in the August 2023 Special Session lawmakers allocated:
$50 million for grants to licensed community mental health agencies to improve mental health services;
$4 million for the Behavioral Health Safety Net which provides mental health services to low-income, uninsured Tennesseans;
$12 million to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) to provide sign on and retention bonuses to prospective and current behavioral health professionals;
$3 million to TDMHSAS to provide a behavioral health scholarship progra.
Additionally, the General Assembly has invested in increasing mental health provider rates to help attract and retain quality providers.
In 2021, lawmakers set aside $250 million for a K-12 Mental Health Trust Fund to set-up a long-term plan to fund support for students including direct clinical services in schools, mental health awareness and promotion, suicide prevention and postvention strategies, and trauma-informed programs and practices.
In the 2023 session, lawmakers invested $8 million for additional school-based behavioral health liaisons across the state.
While the state has made great strides in mental health services, more work remains to be done.
Mental health issues continue to rise, and the shortage of mental health providers and services are becoming more severe.
Depending on what type of mental health service a Tennessean is looking for, it can be challenging to navigate the provider system, especially if the person is or is about to be in crisis.
In 2024, expect lawmakers to push for increasing and improving mental health services to those in need.
Medical Staffing Shortages – Several factors have contributed to medical staffing shortages over the last several years, including retirement of a large group of medical staff as well as COVID-19 fatigue in the medical community.
The shortage of medical staff has been an ongoing issue for many years, and lawmakers have worked hard to address it.
One way lawmakers have worked to help recruit medical providers to Tennessee is to accelerate the licensure process for out-of-state medical providers to receive licensure. Expect lawmakers to continue to consider legislation to lower barriers and make it more attractive for qualified medical providers and staff to work in Tennessee.
Access to Care – Rural communities continue to struggle with access to health care, hospitals in rural parts of the state have closed or cut services to keep their doors open, which has increased the need for primary care providers in rural Tennessee.
Lawmakers have worked many years to alleviate issues with rural Tennessee healthcare. In 2023, lawmakers passed legislation to create the Family Medicine Student Loan Repayment Grant program to recruit physicians to serve patients in rural areas with health services shortages.
Last year, lawmakers also made a major investment in rural and distressed hospitals by allocating $110 million in TennCare reserves for hospital grants to cover services provided under the hospital assessment for rural and distressed hospitals.
In the 2024 legislative session, look for legislation that seeks to attract new students into the medical field as well as recruit medical workers into rural areas.
Certificate of Need – Look for the continuation of Certificate of Need (CON) reform. The CON working group has been meeting to continue with ongoing legislative reform.
Proposals will focus on further eliminating bureaucratic red tape by making the CON process quicker, easier and less expensive to improve access and cost of health care services in Tennessee. CON is a legal document required for a hospital or health care facility that wants to locate or expand its capacity.
Child Care Shortage – The American Rescue Plan offered more than $540 million dollars towards operations support and staff retention grants to child care agencies throughout Tennessee. The money is no longer available, and Tennessee launched its last round for the grant subawards in June.
In October, the Department of Human Services announced that it will increase child care provider reimbursement rates, and give an additional 15% to those considered to be in “child care deserts” to help soften the impact of no longer having these funds.
The shortage and affordability of child care will continue to generate discussion in the 2024 legislative session.
Among issues with child care in Tennessee are long waiting lists, not enough child care workers and child care safety. The shortage of quality and affordable child care is a topic that many working Tennessee parents want to see addressed.
Sen. Hensley may be contacted at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville, Tn., 37243, at 615-741-3100, toll free at 1-800-449-8366, extension 13100, or by fax at 615-252-0231.