Providers Fighting Mental Health, Substance Abuse Challenges Struggle with Rising Need

By: Kay Dervishi, NYN Media

Organizations providing services for people with mental health and substance abuse challenges are simultaneously dealing with a spiking need for help and limited funds to best meet the demand, according to a new report from The Coalition for Behavioral Health.

The report found that behavioral health providers lost an average of $521,000 in revenue from March to June last year because of fewer billable visits; at the same time, they had to absorb “millions of dollars in unfunded costs” transitioning to telehealth services, purchase personal protective equipment, and otherwise adjust to the pandemic. Meanwhile, more than one in four of the coalition’s members have reported that the increased demand they’re facing is exceeding their capacity.

Workers in the behavioral services field – particularly those offering direct care at residential programs – have also been strained by the pandemic, according to the report. COVID-19 outbreaks, worsening mental health among employees and low pay in a field that already has had high turnover made staffing shortages a risk at many organizations. Several organizations provided incentive pay to keep up staffing levels.

“Agencies have been encouraged by some of the regulatory flexibility that they’ve received through the pandemic, but are also at this point themselves exhausted; their workforces are exhausted,” said Nadia Chait, director of policy and advocacy at The Coalition for Behavioral Health.

The shift to offering health services remotely has been a boon in many cases for providers and their clients, but limited access to technology and internet for clients remains a barrier. Local and state governments should invest more in crossing the digital divide for clients and maintain support for telehealth services, the report reads.

“It’s critical that government continues to support that by providing rate parity for telehealth services,” Chait said. “Telehealth should be paid at the same rate as an in-person service to really ensure its success.”

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