AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board launched the Loan Repayment Program for mental health care professionals to help expand the state's mental health labor force.
The program was created during the 84th Legislative Session by the Senate Health and Human Services Chairman, Senator Charles Schwertner, and House Higher Education Chairman, Representative John Zerwas.
The new program offers student loan repayment assistance for qualified psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed professional counselors, psychiatric mental health advanced practice nurses, and clinical social workers who agree to provide direct care to Texans who are underserved.
Students who partake in the program must agree to provide four consecutive years of a service in a federally designated Health Professional Shortage Area, secured correctional facility operated by or under contract with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, or secure correctional facility operated by or under contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The shortage of mental health professionals is one of the state's most critical challenges, and that challenge is felt right here in the Panhandle.
"If you can actually offer the loan forgiveness program, it takes that worry out of having to make a higher level of income that might be offered in a larger city, and [it can] help the folks stay in Amarillo or Canyon," said Tim Bowles, Senior Clinical Department Administrator for the Department of Psychiatry at TTUHSC.
Bowles believes the program may keep more professionals in our area which can help the community.
"When it comes to the health of the community and retaining mental health care professionals in our area a loan forgiveness program sure increases the likelihood of retaining more professionals that can treat more people," Bowles said. "The more people you treat in essence, it's going to make the community more healthy."
Tiffany Laur, Executive Director at Hope and Healing Place, feels an increase in health care professionals in the area may decrease the need for prescription drugs.
"More people [will be] getting mental health services and counseling [which] may decrease the need for psychotropic medications, antidepressants, and we know already that medication alone is not enough that people need counseling to truly be helped," Laur said.
The legislature appropriated over $2 million to fund the program through the 2016-2017 biennium. That money is expected to provide over 100 new health care providers with two full years of loan repayment.
The Higher Education Coordinating Board is now accepting applications for the program on their website. All applications must be received by May 6.
For more information about the program, email the THECB or call 1-800-242-3062.