Behavioral health workforce faces critical challenges in meeting population need

The US mental health system faces considerable challenges in delivering behavioral healthcare to populations in need. In a special supplement to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, experts focus on the key issue of behavioral health human resources for which substantial investment is needed to effect change. Articles in this issue cover research on workforce planning, service delivery and practice, and workforce preparation, and advocate for intelligent allocation of resources to ensure all clients have access to behavioral healthcare. The issue includes a paper led by Susan A. Chapman, PhD, MPH, RN, of the UCSF HWRC on peer providers’ roles in providing behavioral health services. The research reports that a favorable policy environment along with individual champions and consumer advocacy organizations were positively associated with robust programs. Medicaid billing for peer services was an essential source of revenue in both Medicaid expansion and non-expansion states. States’ peer provider training and certification requirements varied.

“While peers often face stigma, low wages, and unsustainable employment, they are consistently valued by the organizations in which they work,” comments Dr. Chapman. “They are uniquely positioned to prevent acute crises and support long-term recovery, especially for clients in underserved populations and rural areas. We need greater awareness of peer providers, in addition to standards for training and certification, billing and reimbursement, so that the role can be more widely adopted in states that are further behind the ones we studied. We must remove the policy barriers that prevent peer providers from helping the people who need it most.