Funding, workforce and care shortages: The crisis in Washington’s community behavioral health system

September 9, 2021

The way community behavioral health is funded in Washington state has brought our system to a breaking point. Despite recent state investments, record workforce shortages persist – largely due to unsustainable funding models and an inability to provide competitive compensation to professionals. Without staff, providers cannot deliver care. Washington’s community behavioral health agencies are making organizational shifts to cope with limited capacity, and even turning away those seeking services at alarming rates.

The downstream effects are monumental: generational impacts on adults and children who can’t access mental health and substance use disorder treatment when they need it most; and the destabilization of our safety net, including additional burdens on law enforcement, medical providers and other community partners when individuals’ unmet needs escalate and become more costly.

In September 2021, the members of Fourfront Contributors raised awareness of these issues at the 2021 Inland Northwest State of Reform Health Policy Conference in two panels:

  • 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. – Strategies to improve our community behavioral health system with panelists Rep. Tom Dent, Ranking Minority Member, House Children, Youth & Families Committee; Jay Fathi, MC, CEO, Molina; Jeff Thomas, CEO, Frontier Behavioral Health and Member, Fourfront Contributor
  • 1:15 to 1:35 p.m. – A conversation about Washington’s community behavioral health system with Fourfront Contributor members Jodi Daly, CEO, Comprehensive Healthcare; Tom Sebastian, CEO, Compass Health, and Jeff Thomas, CEO, Frontier Behavioral Health.

The discussions addressed the need for our state to holistically address workforce shortages in the short term and sustainably fund community behavioral healthcare in the long term. They also included the front-line experiences of Fourfront Contributor member CEOs, as their organizations work to maintain our safety net despite historic financial and staffing challenges.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the panel, you can still view the recording version here:


Want to learn more?

Register here for the Inland NW conference, subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on this issue, and find more about Fourfront Contributor’s advocacy on this issue in our series of op-eds from spring 2021:

Puget Sound Business Journal: Washington must invest in community behavioral health providers

Spokane Journal of Business: Mental health funding is smart investment in community

The Seattle Times: Fund behavioral-health providers essential to our COVID-19 recovery

The Spokesman-Review: What is good for community behavioral health is good for the health of our communities