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Pennsylvania forum addresses workforce challenges

December 08, 2016

As healthcare moves toward more value-based initiatives, there are greater demands being placed on behavioral healthcare providers. However, the financial investments needed to support those demands have lagged behind.

To address this problem, stakeholders from across the state of Pennsylvania recently gathered for a Behavioral Health + Economics Network (BHECON) forum focusing on workforce concerns and challenges.

“The goal of the folks in the room was to get together and identify what needs to be done to better invest in Pennsylvania's workforce,” says Rebecca Farley, vice president for policy and advocacy at the National Council for Behavioral Health.

The National Council for Behavioral Health runs the BHECON initiative and has conducted a series of forums in four other states as well: Missouri, Illinois, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

At the forum in Pennsylvania, approximately 100 stakeholders including community health providers and government officials, joined together to discuss the workforce challenges facing the state.

Farley says that providers are seeing greater demands being placed on their organizations as the rise of value-based care and population health management strategies are gaining momentum in the industry. While providers are being asked to do more, the financial investments necessary to support that increased workload has not kept pace with the demands.

“The result has been that providers find themselves with staff shortages, high turn-over rates, with vacancies that are hard to fill,” Farley says.

One of the issues that was brought up repeatedly at the forum was low reimbursement. Farley says that reimbursement rates set by both the state and private payers are often so low that the situation prevents providers from being able to offer competitive salaries to attract employees.

Providers are left struggling with how they can continue to offer services they know are necessary for the complex and vulnerable patients they serve, while still receiving low reimbursement.

At the forum, attendees began the day with a video presentation from Mike Stack, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.  They also heard from Richard Edley, president and chief executive officer of the Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association (RCPA), who provided data about workforce shortages in the state and nationwide trends.

The forum was just the first of three scheduled BHECON forums in the state. At the final meeting, Farley says, attendees will work to develop policy solutions to key issues unique to Pennsylvania.

“The folks who are in the room left with kind of a sense of energy around advocating for change,” she says of the initial forum.

Farley says they are about half way through the forum series for this year and plan to return to all five states to hold additional forums as part of next year's effort.

“The goal of BHECON is to unite diverse stakeholders in data-driven conversations around mental health policy reform and to help explore what are the real solutions at the state and federal level that are going to take our system to the next level and really help expand access to the full range of services and supports that people need,” she says.

Jill Sederstrom is a freelance writer based in Kansas City.

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