Inslee takes action to address challenges in behavioral health care workforce

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OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee today announced that the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, in partnership with the Health Workforce Council, will evaluate current and projected workforce shortages in behavioral health.

Behavioral health encompasses mental health as well as behaviors such as drug and alcohol use. Integrating primary care and behavioral health services will ensure that treatment is better coordinated and conditions are caught earlier and treated, or even prevented. This kind of health care integration is a revolutionary change in how services are delivered and has long been a priority for Inslee, who sponsored legislation that he signed into law in 2014 to require this change.

It is not clear from current data how many Washington health care professionals offer behavioral health services and if they are adequate in number to meet demand.

“This evaluation will establish a baseline for behavioral health workforce shortages and provide a plan for improving how we coordinate the right services for patients,” Inslee said. “We need to better understand how and where our citizens are receiving services, identify providers meeting those needs and expand training opportunities. It is crucial for Washingtonians to get the `whole person’ health care services they need.”

The state’s workforce board staffs the Health Workforce Council, which includes representatives from a broad range of health care stakeholders, including education and training institutions; health care organizations; migrant and community health services; labor and professional associations; and employer organizations.

The workforce board and the council will develop a plan to help ensure enough licensed or certified physical and behavioral health professionals are available to meet demand. They will also explore the role of community health workers in supporting people with physical or behavioral health issues.

“Workforce is the largest issue facing local behavioral health organizations as we attempt to meet community needs,” said Rick Weaver, president/CEO of Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health, the regional support network in Yakima, Kittitas, Klickitat and Walla Walla counties, which provides behavioral health care services to people in need. “We need to go beyond identifying and describing the problems and move forward in developing strategies that work to address challenges across the state. The needs of rural communities in Eastern Washington require creative solutions. I’m optimistic that this effort will move the dial in that effort.”

The workforce board will make recommendations to the governor in October, with its final analysis and report due December 2017. A $250,000 federal grant through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is funding the work.

“Behavioral health is an emerging, increasingly vital piece of Washington’s health care system,” said workforce board Executive Director Eleni Papadakis. “The workforce board is known for its rigorous evaluation of workforce programs, and believes this new area of research will pay off in better defining who is doing this work right now, how many new workers we will need by 2020 and how we might ramp up education and training to meet the full physical and behavioral health needs of our citizens.”

Media Contacts

Tara Lee
Governor Inslee’s Communications Office