ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A new bill signed by Governor Kathy Hochul on Friday will expand authority when it comes to diagnosing mental health, bolstering access to care.

Senate Bill S9449 is designed to help alleviate what lawmakers are calling the verge of a crisis in New York by expanding the pool of mental health professionals capable of assessing and diagnosing patients to include counselors. Previously, mental health counselors needed the signature of a psychiatrist or other qualified professional.

Assembly member Harry Bronson (D-Dist. 138) said that New York has been disinvesting in mental health treatment for nearly a decade, resulting in a shortage of professionals counselors and long wait times to receive care, something that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bronson said that children and families in particular are in dire need of access to mental health resources, which currently have a six-month backlog.

Now that this bill has been signed, it means there will be upwards of 10,000 mental health professionals who have master’s degrees who will now be able to diagnose and do assessment plans — which are necessary to actually get patients into treatment with a doctor.

Bronson highlighted how this bill helps shift people away from the stigma that often surrounds mental health and mental health resources.

Just as people need quality professional physical care and treatment, he says people need quality professional mental care and treatment. Due to this law passing, major treatment facilities like Hillside will see their waitlists reduced, according to Bronson.

“This will hopefully reduce and mitigate the wait list we have right now, and we’re pretty confident that’s going to happen,” Bronson said. “Certainly, in my conversations with Hillside, they’re very confident the wait list that they have is going to get reduced because they’re going to have these additional professionals able to diagnose.”

He expanded on how this bill was accomplished, saying that professionals from several different fields and specializations came together, including mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychoanalysts, and others.

“[They] really came together with an understanding that we’ve got to meet the needs of our families and in order to do that, we had to expand the ability to diagnose,” he said, emphasizing that the bill does not revoke the right to diagnose from anyone who may have had it prior to the bill’s passing.

Bronson said this bill had large margins of bipartisan support in the Assembly and Senate. Senator Samra Brouk (D-55th) was also instrumental in bringing this together with Bronson.