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Important Steps to Retain a High-Quality Workforce in Behavioral Health

Important Steps to Retain a High-Quality Workforce As the new year opens, mental health and substance use treatment organizations continue to look for sound strategies to address a crippling workforce shortage. Pressures that have affected every sector of health care have strained the behavioral health field to an extent few could have predicted. This is happening at a time when mental health and substance use treatment providers are being asked to do more, from integrating their services into general health to responding to the unmet social needs that can compromise patient outcomes.

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National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) CEO Marvin Ventrell aptly summarized the challenge confronting providers in an essay for Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly. Ventrell wrote, “Our workforce is exhausted, depleted, and reimagined.”


The “reimagined” part refers to an inherent conflict in today’s workplaces. Because of trends that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees feel more empowered than ever to demand a better at-work experience and greater work/life balance. Employers generally want to step up, but remain frustrated because they continue to struggle simply to fill open positions.


In this demanding and inherently unstable environment, provider organizations need to explore every possible step to retain highly valued staff. Making it easier for employees to fulfill requirements for reimbursement and to use data to measure the quality of their services will prove crucial to the mission.


NAATP’s leadership identifies workforce needs as one of its highest-priority topics in association member services for 2023. The association states on its website that it is “working with our board, member CEOs, related associations and staffing HR experts to develop additional resources our members can use as they work to maintain full operation, and recruit and retain staff to deliver lifesaving services.”


National surveys of providers have consistently reported struggles with staff recruitment and retention. A 2021 survey of National Council for Mental Wellbeing members cited numerous factors contributing to the challenge for community-based treatment organizations, including administrative barriers, historically low compensation for providers, and widespread burnout resulting from the sudden changes brought on by the pandemic. These factors will continue to compromise providers’ ability to maintain a stable staff for some time to come.


Fortunately, many states are taking steps to shore up the behavioral workforce that serves their most vulnerable residents. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis that was released this month found that among 44 states responding to a survey, 28 either had implemented a fee-for-service rate increase in Medicaid in fiscal year 2022 or were planning to do so in fiscal 2023.


The KFF survey found that other strategies states are using to enhance the Medicaid behavioral health workforce include allowing more provider types (including peer specialists) to bill Medicaid without the requirement of a supervising practitioner, implementing standardized provider credentialing processes, and requiring managed care payers to reimburse providers promptly.


Issue briefs co-authored by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and consultant Health Management Associates have offered other short-term strategies that they believe states must employ to help the behavioral workforce meet soaring demand for treatment. These suggested approaches include:


  • Paying for technical assistance to care providers to help them implement integrated care, including through the use of team-based and collaborative care models that research has shown improve patient outcomes.
  • Advancing the use of reimbursement mechanisms under Medicaid that encourage integrated care management, consultation between behavioral health and other health care providers, and addition of services that address social determinants of health, such as stable housing and employment.
  • Correcting inequities in reimbursement across payers. In some states, there are vast differences in provider payment rates among commercial insurance, Medicaid, and now the highly coveted Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) model of care.

These steps are necessary, and in many cases are long overdue, but they inevitably will place even more pressure on behavioral health organizations and their employees to document performance. In a professional environment where most employees continue to see greater capacity to move, how can provider agencies best communicate their workers’ essential value, and take concrete steps that reflect this?

Besides the already mentioned strategies, organizations can make a big difference by investing in enterprise software tools that were developed with behavioral health professionals’ needs in mind, and that are more complete and consistently refined to adjust to a changing health care landscape. Enterprise solutions reduce redundant data entry, reduce manual reporting and reconciliation processes that consume valuable time.

Sigmund Software has specialized in enterprise software solutions since 2004. We not only focus on the EHR, Practice Management, Billing and patient engagement needs of behavioral health care provider, we also focus on how best to connect and leverage the information collected across the multi-disciplinary team and entire treatment organization.

Our AURA solution offers extensive data collection and reporting capability, the lifeblood of improved performance in an increasingly integrated care environment. It enables seamless care coordination and smart decision support, allowing busy users to do their jobs more intuitively and effectively.

To learn more about how Sigmund Software can help your organization, please visit our website