Most FQHCs know there’s a psychiatrist shortage. Certainly, healthcare recruiting teams are aware of the phenomenon. This is a huge problem for patient populations already struggling with continuing stresses related to COVID-19. One in five U.S. adults has a mental health or substance abuse issue. It’s a bigger disease burden even than heart disease or cancer. The psychiatrist professional shortages have created a huge concern in the healthcare community. As we reach the mid-point of the year, what does the hiring landscape look like for these mental health professionals?
New Administration, New Priorities
The new administration in Washington signaled to shift priorities for healthcare providers and the patients they serve. In March, the new President signed legislation allowing for additional mental health resources for children and adults. The programs include behavioral health workforce training, pediatric mental health access, and an expansion of grants for certified community behavioral health clinics. But the legislation didn’t really address the shortage of clinical professionals plaguing our communities. Some states are tackling the issue, including:
- New Jersey is working on legislation that would allow graduate students to start residencies early in the mental health field.
- Massachusetts is working on a law that would form a pilot program for a workforce pipeline that would encourage more people to seek training in mental health careers.
More states are adopting parity in insurance rules that require payers to cover mental health services at the same rate as other types of health-related illnesses. Yet, we are still short an estimated 30,451 psychiatrists to meet the demand. The issue is bigger in rural communities. For example, 60% of U.S. counties have no practicing psychiatrists. The coverage is also uneven; there are 612 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in New York, but only one per 100,000 in Idaho.
Worse, the numbers may be trending down for new psychiatrists to enter the field. Fully 60% of psychiatrists are over the age of 55. With retirement looming for many of these professionals, it almost certainly guarantees the crisis will worsen before it improves. The shortage of psychiatrists isn’t the only challenge, either. In non-parity states, coverage for mental and behavioral health is limited by many payers.
All of these problems create longer wait times for a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Since FQHCs often serve as the medical home for people with persistent, severe mental illness, these organizations are often faced with the realities of the provider shortage. We see the effects of the problem firsthand. Is there anything we can do to stretch our resources while attracting the limited talent that’s on the market today? We believe the answer is yes. Here are a few examples:
- For many organizations, collaborative care is a newer model that stretches psychiatric services more efficient across an FQHC. In these roles, the psychiatrist becomes a specialty consultant, and the primary care doctor takes the lead in managing the patient relationship and care delivery.
- Too, organizations can develop on-call relationships and make use of telemedicine technology to stretch their providers to respond to the need. Telepsychiatric visits are more efficient and potentially more attractive to psychiatric resources by increasing care access while eliminating commute time for both the doctor and patient.
- FQHCs can work with a professional staffing agency trained to develop long-term nurtured relationships with psychiatric residents and providers in the field. This immediately improves your professional funnel for these resources during the hiring process.