March 29, 2023
By Jodi Daly, Jeff Thomas and Tom Sebastian.
In the past few years, Washington state has faced severe and far-reaching repercussions to our behavioral health system. As our communities grapple with the social and economic impacts of the pandemic, more and more people are accessing behavioral health services for anxiety, depression and substance use disorder challenges. Many are from our most vulnerable communities: low-income and homeless adults and youth who qualify for Medicaid benefits.
As community behavioral health providers who deliver mental health and substance abuse services to low-income populations, we are working hard to meet demand. But while access to these services is vital to the well-being of our communities, we and our peers statewide can’t keep pace with growing needs because of chronic underfunding. We are calling on Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington Legislature to stabilize our community behavioral health system through immediate increases in funding, and to support a modernized, sustainable funding model to ensure we’re prepared for the future.
Our staff members are on the front lines of our state’s mental health and homelessness crises — helping individuals avoid stays in the hospital or jail; serving our children and families in local schools; and partnering with law enforcement agencies that help make interactions with officers a gateway to services that can support recovery.
The mental health professionals doing this work deserve competitive pay. But, despite dedicating approximately 80 cents of every revenue dollar to staff compensation, we can’t compete with other opportunities in private practice, hospitals and even other publicly funded medical facilities. The result: a workforce shortage greater than anything we and our peers have experienced.
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