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There is no “return to normal” when it comes to professionals in the health care industry.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, health care providers in Oklahoma were already facing a workforce shortfall in the double digits. The pandemic stretched our systems and professionals beyond capacity.
As we surpass the two-year anniversary of this unprecedented crisis, our society is now faced with its ripple effects — the greatest of these being in the behavioral health field.
The Washington Post recently reported that the U.S. mental health and substance abuse referral line received 833,598 calls in 2020, a 27% increase from 2019. In 2021, this number rose to over 1 million.
A 2021 American Psychological Association Survey further depicts the declining state of mental health in our country. Psychologists have seen a surge in anxiety, depression and stress-related disorders over the past two years, and they can’t keep up with the historic demand for services. Of responding psychologists, 62% reported an increase in referrals, but 65% stated they do not have the capacity to take on new patients, and their waitlist is consistently growing.
Not only is behavioral health facing its share of staffing shortages, but the idea of what it means to work in this sector is also expanding.
Soon, Oklahoma will be creating more jobs for behavioral health specialists in partnership with local police departments and our public schools, as well as in support of the new federal 988 mental health crisis hotline. These innovative approaches to care are needed, and we must support this progress with more specialized training and a pipeline of new professionals.
Congress has delivered on federal funding that can kick-start these efforts through the American Rescue Plan Act, and the Oklahoma Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding wisely formed a legislative working group to directly address our future health care workforce needs.
With proper funding to reimagine our education and training methods, I am confident there is a workforce to be developed today to support the growing needs in behavioral health services. As we navigate the Great Resignation nationally and locally, behavioral health should be seen as a field for many individuals to transition into and impact their communities for the better.
NorthCare and the Oklahoma Behavioral Health Association are partnering with local Oklahoma universities and trade schools to unify our educational offerings at a one-stop campus in the heart of Oklahoma City. From various certifications to master-level curriculum, adult students from all spectrums will find the flexibility and opportunity to advance their skills and pivot into fulfilling careers.
As our elected leaders at the state Capitol consider proposals to address the immediate and future needs, I urge us all to see the window of opportunity we have to allocate funding that lays a foundation to foster a robust health care workforce and modern health care delivery system for generations to come.
Randy Tate is the CEO of NorthCare, a certified community behavioral health clinic in Oklahoma City that provides services in 45 Oklahoma counties.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma health care workforce shortage in dire need of solution