Behavioral Health’s Increasing Role in Healthcare—and What It Means for Staffing

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20% of U.S. adults have a mental illness, and the same percentage of youth “either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.” Unfortunately, while this was once a crisis, it is now the new norm in America, fueled by COVID, social media, stigmas, and, most alarmingly, a failure to meet the demand for services.

But there’s a silver lining: behavioral health has become a priority for governments, patients, payers, and providers. There’s a collective push to put behavioral health on par with physical health, transforming healthcare to a “whole person care” approach. After all, physical health issues can often lead to mental health struggles.

What does behavioral health’s growth mean for healthcare professionals’ day-to-day?
Payers and providers are increasingly collaborating on care. In the recent past, the focus was on the physical care journeys of patients. Now, those journeys increasingly include behavioral health services, which have changed the dynamic of the administration of care, including care management. As a result, many of today’s clinicians and healthcare administrators must work to:

Understand the patient’s behavioral health needs.
It’s critical that healthcare professionals are in tune with the patient’s mental health diagnosis. The more intimately they understand the symptoms of it, the better relationship they are likely to have with the patient. Certain mental illnesses may even affect the way the patient prefers to interact with staff. Health plans and providers must not only help develop a care plan, but communicate it in a manner that caters to the patient’s unique profile.

Know which services are available and appropriate.
With behavioral health services becoming a common part of care plans, healthcare professionals must know which services are available and fitting for the patient’s particular needs. From alternative medicine to cognitive behavioral therapy to inpatient care, there are often an array of services supported by payers and providers. The understanding of each, along with the communication with clinical staff at various facilities, is important to ensuring the patient receives proper care.

Coordinate care with a mix of medical providers and behavioral health providers.
Typically, the patient’s care team consisted of medical providers, but today, it also includes their behavioral health providers. It’s necessary to be able to speak fluently in the right physical and behavioral health languages, use accurate technical terminology, and articulate the patient’s feelings, needs, symptoms, and outcomes across the two spaces.

Prepare for more telehealth services.
During the pandemic, telehealth grew by up to 20x. Today, the demand continues to exceed supply, which is proving to be costly, and there’s a strong push for telehealth equity. For healthcare professionals, this means learning and effectively using various digital technologies. It also requires clinicians to recognize when virtual care may not be the answer, either because the patient is uncomfortable with it, or because they may need to be seen in person for a more thorough assessment.

How has behavioral health’s growth changed Medix healthcare staffing?

Here at Medix, we’re hearing many new clients express how difficult it’s been for them to find care management candidates with behavioral health experience. We’re also seeing more long-term clients submit requests for care managers with specific behavioral health experience, along with an increase in the requests for behavioral health techs, social workers, and various types of therapists.

Medix has adapted to this by proactively building our talent pools around these positions—allowing us to continue to fill related requisitions. With the industry’s focus on “whole-person care,” we saw this coming, and made it a focus. And with the number of requests we continue to receive, we have remain committed to it.

While this dynamic hasn’t necessarily changed the way we recruit, it has made it more challenging. In some markets, it can be difficult to find professionals with the depth of behavioral health experience that some clients seek, which can be overcome by focusing on continuing education with current staff, allowing flexibility around job qualifications, and more. For social workers in particular, the recruiting challenge is compounded by the nation’s alarming social worker shortage.

“The growth in client demand for healthcare professionals experienced in behavioral health has been sharp,” said Lauren Filarski, National Director of Care Management at Medix. “With the talent shortage, it can be difficult to find the ideal candidate for a behavioral health care management position, for example. So we’re taking measures to combat that—we’re advising our clients to invest in their permanent staff, building relationships with fresh graduates, and looking at alternative candidates with transferable skills. There’s no silver bullet for delivering talent with behavioral health experience; it requires a multifaceted approach.”

As Americans’ mental health issues persist, and a growing number of positive outcomes are tied to behavioral health efforts, the demand for this talent will only grow. The onus is on governments, educational institutions, and employers to continue to foster the talent we so desperately need.

To discuss your organization’s staffing needs, and to find temporary or permanent staff with behavioral health experience, get in touch.