As behavioral health treatment continues to take center stage across the country, providers and facilities are being thrust into the uncomfortable position of growing their staff.
In the regular world, this is pretty routine. You place an ad on a job-posting site or reach out to colleagues for recruiting referrals, and kick off the HR process from there. Simple enough, right?
The problem in the behavioral health industry is that there's a shortage of behavioral health professionals in the workforce.
According to an article on 9news.com by Sonia Gutierrez, Dr. Jenn Leiferman identified "the shortage of mental health specialists" as one of the biggest challenges facing that space in Colorado.
Additionally, U.S News published a not-so-encouraging report by David Levine examining the demand for mental health care providers in the immediate future. "A 2016 report released by the Health Resource and Services Administration projected the supply of workers in selected behavioral health professions to be approximately 250,000 workers short of the projected demand in 2025."
Not to mention a recent Behavioral Healthcare Executive report stating that "surveys show 60% of clinical directors are over the age of 50, and 46% of direct care staff are over the age of 45," meaning a good portion of our current workforce will be retiring over the next 10 years.
So, where is everyone?
Well, that's a tricky question.
While many news outlets cite salaries, stigma, recruitment, access, and/or even burnout, the issue is much more complicated. Go figure.
In an industry plagued by corruption, stigma, and fraud (Vice.com discusses the "dark side" of recovery), it's hard to persuade the younger demographic to choose mental health as they enter the workforce. Also, many four-year institutions aren't offering post medical school mental health specialty training positions.
With the opioid epidemic leading to an uptick in co-occurring mental illness, specialty training and programs designed for mental health treatment are a necessity for any medical student looking to dive into the behavioral health space. Without it, these students are thrust into a vacuum of treatment/prevention, rehabilitation, insurance oddities, aftercare, and continuing education they're not prepared to handle because they've been trained in a primary care setting.
Additionally, per the Annapolis Coalition's "An Action Plan for Behavioral Health Workforce Development," most mental health education programs don't touch on the need to update and change their material. As treatment methods progress, it's important to teach more than just the traditional 12-steps or MAT treatment, as new and effective methods of care develop daily. For example, telehealth and telepsychiatry are on the rise, meaning that our behavioral health students should understand the impacts of telemedicine vs. traditional inpatient care.
There's also continuing issues with insurance companies requiring more and more paperwork in order to treat their policyholders. Will a student trained in a primary care setting understand that recovery doesn't end after discharge? Or the delicate relationship between treatment and insurance reimbursement?
Simple questions with complicated answers. This continues to be the theme in behavioral health, where treating issues like workforce development are not as simple as a job ad submission.
How has your organization recruited specialists and new team members?
What strategies do you employ when looking to fill a new role or expand your team?
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