A bill passed by the Alabama Legislature will give more access to mental health diagnoses for people across the state. House Bill 56, sponsored by state Rep. Frances Holk-Jones, will allow clinical …
A bill passed by the Alabama Legislature will give more access to mental health diagnoses for people across the state.
House Bill 56, sponsored by state Rep. Frances Holk-Jones, will allow clinical social workers to diagnose mental illness.
Supporters say the move is a long time coming. Alabama is the last state in the nation to allow the expansion in the scope of practice.
"It's just something that Alabama had not gotten to yet, and we're glad it's done," said Rachel Dickinson, executive director of the Alabama State Board of
Social Work Examiners.
Without passage of the bill, Alabama not only fell out of step with the rest of the nation but risked losing clinical social workers to neighboring states. The federal government recently announced it would no longer hire or promote clinical social workers at Veterans Administration facilities in Alabama because they were not legally allowed to diagnose.
"That was huge. Hundreds of them work at the VA, but now they can diagnose and not wait on a doctor," Dickinson said.
The change means veterans and other patients who may live in rural areas cut their wait time and can begin addressing mental health issues faster. Without the ability for social workers to diagnose, the patient would have to be referred to a doctor, who may have a waiting list months' long, just to get that diagnosis.
Now, patients can be referred to treatment. Social workers can diagnose emotional disorders, PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Doctors will still be required to render psychological diagnoses. The social workers also cannot prescribe medication and must still refer patients to physicians for those needs.
The legislation impacts nearly 2,500 clinical social workers across the state. The group is considered the most trained in the field and requires two years of supervision and 3,000 work hours after obtaining both a bachelor's and master's degree to earn the title of clinical social worker.
This is the first bill Holk-Jones has carried to the finish line since winning the District 95 seat in 2022.
She represents the southern part of Baldwin County, including Bon Secour, Josephine, Elberta, Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Foley, Fort Morgan and Perdido Beach.
"I'm honored they asked me to represent this bill. Anything in the mental health world is my passion, and I'm just glad I was able to get this done for them," Holk-Jones said.
Holk-Jones co-founded the Jennifer Claire Moore Foundation in Foley, a nonprofit dedicated to mental health improvements in youth, in honor of her late daughter, Jennifer. Jones currently serves as chairwoman for the group's board of advisors.