PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Islanders will gain access to thousands of psychologists around the country starting Saturday, as a year-old law belatedly takes effect.
On July 1, Rhode Island will officially join the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact, or PSYPACT, an interstate organization that lets psychologists provide telehealth therapy outside the state where they’re licensed.
By participating, Rhode Island will authorize its residents to receive therapy from out-of-state psychologists who offer services online. Rhode Island-based therapists will also be able to apply for permission to see out-of-state clients via telehealth, as well as to hold virtual appointments with Rhode Islanders when either the client or the therapist is out of state.
State Sen. Alana DiMario, a Narragansett Democrat who is a licensed therapist, co-sponsored the 2022 law giving the R.I. Department of Health permission to join PSYPACT along with state Rep. Joe McNamara, D-Warwick. She said the COVID-19 pandemic showed telehealth can be “a piece of the puzzle” when it comes to making all kinds of care more accessible.
For patients, DiMario said, “it will expand their options of being able to make sure they can find someone that not only has an area of expertise that will be helpful, but also who they feel like they can connect with just kind of on that personal level that’s so important.”
The new treatment option comes amid widespread concern about mental health among people of all ages. The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed 25.9% of Rhode Island adults experienced some sort of mental illness in 2021.
“We anticipate that it will help tremendously, because there are wait lists for every level of care,” Laurie-Marie Pisciotta, executive director of Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, told 12 News.
“Expanding the network of providers that a Rhode Islander can now use with the interstate compact means they could see somebody maybe not based in Rhode Island who doesn’t have a wait list, so they can be served sooner,” she said.
Rhode Island is the 36th state to join PSYPACT, which began enrolling states back in 2016 but didn’t become operational until the summer of 2020. Rhode Island was originally scheduled to start participating in January, but it took the state an additional seven months to finish the regulations.
Massachusetts lawmakers are currently considering a bill to have their state join PSYPACT, as well. Connecticut signed on last fall.
Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said while Rhode Islanders will be authorized to use PSYPACT providers starting Saturday, the department is “still finalizing the implementation plan on our end.”
“We plan to make a public announcement about how people can get care from psychologists in this new manner, and we’ll have clear information online that people can turn to going forward,” Wendelken said in an email. “This is in addition to sending a communication to licensees in Rhode Island. We expect all this to roll out over the next few weeks.”
DiMario said expanded telehealth options can be especially helpful for people who live in places with a limited number of local providers.
“For my constituents out on Block Island, telehealth has been absolute lifesaver,” she said. “It’s one of the ways that people access care primarily. So the fact that they can now expand their pool of who they can potentially see is really life-changing.”
Other efforts are also underway to make mental health services more widely available to Rhode Islanders.
PSYPACT only covers licensed psychologists, not other categories of therapists such as licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs) and licensed professional counselors (LPCs). An interstate compact for counselors is also in the works, DiMario said.
Separately, state lawmakers approved a resolution during this year’s General Assembly session directing the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner to complete a study by next March examining the reimbursement rates that Rhode Island’s commercial health insurers are currently paying mental-health professionals.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Threads, Twitter and Facebook.