ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Assemblyman Harry Bronson is sponsoring a bill that would give mental health counselors the ability to diagnose patients. Currently, all mental health counselors in New York state can’t legally diagnose patients without a psychiatrist or other provider signing off.

Bronson said this bill will make mental health in general more accessible and equitable. “If we are able to allow those folks to offer diagnosis in all parts of the state, that’s gonna address the mental health shortage that we currently have,” he said.

Deanna Ferguson is a lead therapist at the Rochester Mental Health Center. She said mental health counselors in NYS have been fighting for a bill like this for a long time.

“Mental health counselors are trained to diagnose, that’s part of our training and in order to get the degree you need that training so it’s something we’re trained and capable of doing,” she said.

The shortage of mental health care has become even more evident during the pandemic. Lauren Giglia is the president of the Mental Health Counselors of Greater Rochester.

“I get phone calls every single day of people looking for therapists, so if I didn’t have to be that middle man, for instance, submit the paperwork to a doctors signature and all those things, it would allow us as mental health practitioners to focus on therapy instead of all the hoops I have to jump through to get that therapy approved,” Giglia said.

She said the accessibility issue also relates to the financial cost of therapy.

“We have to be able to diagnose in order for that client to get reimbursed by their insurance or for us to get paid through billing,” Giglia said. “For a client to come to therapy and worry about how they’re going to pay, that’s not what I want to worry about for a client as a therapist.”

Bronson said this bill will streamline mental health care for the community.

“What this bill specifically will do is allow licensed mental health practitioners to offer diagnosis and follow up with treatment and it’s really about accessibility to mental health care.”

He said he’s trying to get a mental health package, including this bill, into this year’s state budget negotiations.

He said another important bill in the package involves mental health professionals outside the clinic setting not being able to be directly paid from medicaid. His bill would authorize direct reimbursement to allow people to seek additional care outside a clinic setting, such as a student seeking care outside of school.

New York State Senator Samra Brouk is the sponsor of the Senate version of this bill (S 5301).