Senate approves bills from DiMario, LaMountain to join interstate social worker and counseling compacts


STATE HOUSE — The Senate today voted to approve bills from Sen. Alana M. DiMario and Sen. Matthew L. LaMountain to have Rhode Island join interstate compacts that allow counselors and social workers licensed in member states to practice in other member states.

The bills, which are part of the Senate’s HEALTH Initiative of legislative priorities, now head to the House where Reps. Justine A. Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) and Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown) have introduced companion legislation (2024-H 7350, 2024-H 7141).

The legislation is aimed at better enabling Rhode Islanders to access the mental health services they need amid staffing challenges in the health care industry, and to make it easier for qualified clinicians — particularly active military members and their spouses — to work in Rhode Island. It also helps preserve continuity of care when patients or their clinicians move across state lines.

“When it comes to finding the right person to help you with the mental health challenges you’re experiencing, it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation,” said Senator DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham), who works as a licensed mental health counselor in private practice. “Most mental health professionals have a specialty in the client population they work with, so by allowing Rhode Island to enter into these compacts we are making it easier for patients to find the right person at the right time for them. In addition, we’re allowing our mental health clinicians to practice with more flexibility and to connect with a broader range of potential clients.”

Said Senator LaMountain (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), “This legislation could have a significant effect on the way a counselor practices by providing a continuity of care and a better method of reaching underserved populations. Compacts such as these are an effective way to address the health care crisis as it reaches a crescendo in Rhode Island and other states.”

Senator DiMario’s bill (2024-S 2184) would make Rhode Island one of the founding states in the interstate licensure compact for social workers, which would allow Rhode Island to participate in rulemaking to establish the interstate credential, while Senator LaMountain’s bill (2024-S 2183) would adopt an existing compact for counselors.

Once the state joins and establishes an oversight commission, counselors and social workers in Rhode Island can apply for the reciprocity privileges provided through the compact. Professionals practicing under these compacts would still need to hold an active license in good standing in their home state in additional to meeting the requirements for an interstate license. They would also still be accountable to the oversight department for each state they serve in.

“The Senate took a critically important step by passing the interstate compact for social work,” said Rebekah Gewirtz, executive director of the Rhode Island and Massachusetts chapters of the National Association of Social Workers. “Rhode Islanders need better access to mental health services, and need to be able to continue relationships with their social worker even if they cross state lines. Should the compact pass into law, participating social workers will be able to continue to best serve clients and communities in Rhode Island. We want to thank lead sponsor Senator DiMario for her tireless work on behalf of vulnerable communities, mental health access and the social work profession.”

Said Dr. Prachi Kene, director of Counseling Programs at Rhode Island College, “The Counseling Compact has many benefits, including increased access to desperately needed mental health treatment, availability of care for underserved communities, continuity of care across state lines, and improved opportunities and mobility for counselors. I want to thank Senator LaMountain for shepherding this important legislation through the Senate.”