Supporting Workers with Disabilities by Addressing the Mental and Behavioral Health Workforce Shortage

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Lack of psychiatrists, clinical social workers, therapists, and other health care workers severely limits a state’s ability to serve workers with stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. that affect their well-being and performance at work.


By Sophia Yager

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health condition in their lifetime, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exposed and compounded these challenges. Many Americans living with mental and behavioral health issues often experience barriers associated with entering and maintaining employment, such as workplace communication issues and the inability to perform physical tasks. . Yet more than a third of Americans live in an area that lacks trained mental health professionals. Lack of psychiatrists, clinical social workers, therapists, and other health care workers severely limits a state’s ability to serve workers with stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. that affect their well-being and performance at work. As states grapple with labor shortages across sectors, supporting workers with mental and behavioral health barriers as they re-enter the workforce is essential for individual economic resilience and statewide.

Governors and state policymakers have an opportunity to develop short- and long-term solutions to address this shortage and better serve workers facing these barriers to employment. Leveraging partnerships between state and community partners, these strategies enable states to identify their workforce demands and gaps, invest in training and career paths for a sustainable talent pool and to explore faster solutions to meet the most urgent labor needs in this area.


Identify workforce demand and gaps

An important first step in addressing this workforce shortage is to quantify the existing supply and demand for mental and behavioral health services and to analyze the gaps in workforce and service availability. . Data from sources such as labor market information offices, occupational licensing bodies, industry groups, regulatory bodies and employers can help state leaders determine the current supply and projected from mental and behavioral health professionals. States can work with community partners, including regional or local mental or behavioral health clinics, to determine current demand for services and any shortages or barriers to accessing services based on geography or other patient demographics. Many states have also convened task forces or interagency working groups to lead these data collection and analysis efforts and develop strategic plans based on their findings.

The Ohio The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, InnovateOhio, and Deloitte conducted a needs assessment study in April 2021 for healthcare workers behavioral behavior of the state to determine current and future supply and demand for these services. Using data provided by 11 state agencies, the state was able to determine demand by geography, practitioner type, patient age, facility, and service type; perform detailed practitioner supply analysis and forecast supply and demand at the state and county level. The state has assembled a multi-agency workforce advisory team that will leverage this analysis to make data-driven investments in strategic workforce priorities. In May 2022, Governor DeWine invested $85 million in American Rescue Plan Act (APRA) funds to provide paid internships, scholarships, and cost relief for obtaining a license or a certification to help behavioral health professionals earn credentials quickly and affordably through Ohio’s ARPA. Strategic Service-Based Workforce Development (HCBS) Fund.


Invest in training programs and career paths

To increase the number of qualified professionals and ensure a sustainable pool of future workers, states can invest in training programs and career paths in mental and behavioral health. The main aim is to raise awareness of professions and career paths in this field and to strengthen existing training programs or develop new ones. States can think strategically about creating pathways that combine short-term training with long-term professional development opportunities, incorporating certificate programs, degree programs, apprenticeships and internships that meet the needs state’s unique workforce and lead to high-quality employment opportunities. To promote equitable access to services, educational opportunities and employment, states can work to expand these programs to underserved areas and reduce barriers to accessing these careers for people from historically marginalized communities.

In August 2022, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers invested $9.1 million in ARPA grants to expand the grant program to qualified state treatment trainees and create educational pathways in behavioral health. The Qualified Treatment Trainee Grant Program enables behavioral health providers to recruit and support trainees to provide clinical care under supervision to meet clinicians’ requirements to become fully licensed providers. Funding will be provided by the state’s higher education partner, UW-Whitewater, directly to provider agencies to hire and supervise interns, and additional funding will be leveraged to expand the network of sponsoring agencies (particularly those located in underserved areas or those serving uninsured people). or underinsured patients) and provide annual stipends of $5,000 to interns in unpaid internship programs. The state is also investing in the development of a post-master’s certificate in the treatment of people with dual diagnoses of mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Idaho Governor Brad Little created the Idaho Behavioral Health Council by Executive Order in February 2020 to develop and implement a statewide strategic plan to evaluate the state’s behavioral health system, determine the needs of Idahoans and recommend actions and policies to ensure an “effective and efficient recovery-behavioural-oriented health system.” One of those recommendations was to develop a behavioral health workforce plan that increases the pool of state-certified behavioral health officers.

professionals. This plan outlines strategies to expand high-quality training opportunities, including the creation of a Recovery Coach Training Academy funded by the Idaho Department of Health to increase the number of certified professionals to support workers. seeking recovery or recovering from substance use disorders. The plan also partners with the Idaho Workforce Development Council to leverage the Idaho LAUNCH, an online career and training research center and training fund, to Promote and fund training opportunities for high-demand behavioral health careers, including Peer Support Specialists, Family Support Partners and Certified Prevention Specialists.


Explore licensing and recruitment strategies

To address more immediate workforce challenges, states can reduce barriers to professional licensing for mental and behavioral health workers and provide recruitment incentives. States may consider permanent or temporary changes to professional licensing requirements, such as expediting licensing for inactive or retired practitioners, reducing or waiving licensing fees, granting temporary licenses, or extension of the field of practice of certain licenses and the implementation of reciprocity of licenses or pacts for diplomas obtained in other countries. states or countries. Other recruitment incentives may include tuition assistance or reimbursement, loan repayment, stipends or paid work-based learning opportunities, enrollment or retention bonuses, credits tax exemptions and housing or relocation assistance, all of which could be linked to those working in underserved communities. . Reducing these barriers to entry into these fields also helps to diversify the workforce in an industry where lived experience is a growing priority for delivering the highest quality services.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed legislation in June 2022 to address the shortage of mental health professionals in the state and increase access to mental health services. The bill temporarily directs the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to allow professional license holders who have not practiced for less than five years to reactivate their license, allowing applying practitioners to easier reintegration into the labor market. The legislation also allows the Mental Health Division of the Illinois Department of Social Services to award grants or contracts to community mental health centers or behavioral health clinics to expand the training and supervision of behavioral health providers in training (with a focus on underserved urban and rural centers). areas) to reduce barriers to professional licensing requirements for new practitioners.


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This commentary is supported by the NGA’s participation in the State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED), a unique state-federal collaboration facilitated by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy of the United States to help state and local governments adopt and implement inclusive policies. and best practices that lead to increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities, and a stronger, more inclusive American workforce and economy.

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