Illinois Defines A New Profession: Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse

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The quality of providers who comprise the mental health workforce of any state is an essential part of that state population’s health and well-being. But oversight and support of the mental health practitioners still often takes second place to the support and prestige those working in the medical field receive. A recent change to Illinois law highlights the lack of distinction between the two fields that have existed in the past, a deficiency that has led to incomplete information and a poor understanding of which provider types make up the mental health workforce.

The Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (SB 1702) was recently amended to include a newly named profession, the Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse. Under the newly added Section 1-101.3, an Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse is defined as “a nurse who is licensed to practice as an advanced practice registered nurse under Section 65-5 of the Nurse Practice Act and has been certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist or a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner” (405 ILCS 5/1-101.3).

An Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurse (APPN) is a specialty profession quite different from other nursing designations. Typically, to work as an APPN, a practitioner must hold a Master of Science in nursing, in which both coursework and clinical experience focuses on psychiatric mental health nursing. Applicants must also pass an exam offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. There are also sub-specialty areas within the psychiatric mental health nursing designation, including child and adolescent care, emergency, and military service members.

Despite these distinctions, prior to the addition of this new profession in the state code, there was virtually no official distinction between nurses working in the medical field and those who specialize in mental health. A 2018 report on the mental health workforce discussed the advanced practice psychiatric nurse as one of the five provider types recognized by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Along with clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and psychiatrists, advanced practice psychiatric nurses are listed as one of the most critical mental health professions to the overall state and quality of the workforce.

Such a claim is old news to organizations, including the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA), which was founded in 1985 and boasts a global membership of more than 12,500 psychiatric mental health nurses. Committed to supporting and educating individuals working in the specialty practice of psychiatric-mental health (PMH) nursing, APNA also works to enhance prevention strategies for mental health problems and improve the care and treatment of persons with psychiatric disorders.

The advanced practice psychiatric nurse is a critical part of this mission, as well as a key component of the quality of mental health care in Illinois and nationwide. But the lack of a legal designation in Illinois state code has led to a shortage of information about how psychiatric nurses contribute to mental health care cost, quality and access. As Elayne J. Heisler, a Specialist in Health Services, argues, there are many determining factors in the availability of mental health care, such as the number of providers and their skill levels. Additionally, the care providers’ wages affect the cost of mental health care, so a knowledge of how the mental health workforce operates can help create legislation and oversee mental health care policies. Without a legal profession in the Illinois state code, such an understanding has not been possible to achieve in the past.

The new addition to the state code combined with increased attention to the profession of advanced practice psychiatric nurse and the important role it plays within the overall state of public health and welfare poises Illinois for change in the delivery of mental health services. With official state recognition, policymakers will have data to understand the status of Illinois’ mental health workforce better and more effectively address a range of policy issues related to mental health care.

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.