Shortage of Mental Health/Substance Abuse Professionals Is A Major Challenge, National Council President Writes

                                                      President and CEO Chuck Ingoglia

(1-12-22) The National Council represents 3,500 providers of mental health and substance abuse treatment programs across the U.S. delivering services to more than 10 million men, women and children. I am grateful that its President and CEO Chuck Ingoglia agreed to answer the four questions that I have been asking leaders of major mental health organizations this month as we look at each group’s past accomplishments, future priorities and why its leaders got involved in mental health programs.

Question One: What was the National Council’s biggest accomplishment during 2021?

Ensuring access to care rests on the ability of mental health and substance use organizations to have the capacity to serve existing clients and see new ones.  There has been and continues to be a need for financial assistance in our nation’s community-based mental health and substance use treatment services. As organizations across the country struggled to keep their doors open and continue to provide needed care to their communities, our efforts focused on making sure mental health and substance use treatment organizations were included in negotiations around the American Rescue Plan Act. Our advocacy helped lead to specific block grant funding for mental health and substance use treatment organizations, as well as additional provider relief funding made available through the Department of Health and Human Services, particularly for those in rural communities and those serving vulnerable patient populations.

Part of the American Rescue Plan Act also included grant funding for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs). CCBHCs are clinics that meet rigorous and expanded criteria for care, including 24-hour crisis services; comprehensive outpatient mental health and substance use care; enhanced care coordination; and partnerships with primary care, hospital partners and law enforcement.

CCBHCs expand access to lifesaving care and have lowered costs, improved outcomes, contributed to building critical mental health and substance use care system capacity and infrastructure required to meet rising levels of need and integrated services with the rest of the health care system. As a result of this funding, there are now 431 CCBHCs across the country – a 92% increase from the start of 2021. That is significant progress.

Question Two: What are your priorities going into 2022?

We foresee increased demand for mental health and substance use treatment services in 2022.

Our top priority remains supporting organizations offering these services by making sure they have the resources they need to continue providing lifesaving care in their communities. One of our biggest priorities is supporting the crisis response ecosystem in the rollout of 988 – the nation’s new three-digit number for people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis. The number goes live in July, and we’re deep in collaboration with the lifeline operators, first responders, advocates, states and the federal government to make sure organizations across the country have the resources and support they need. We are also hopeful for action on the federal level to allow all states the option to participate in the CCBHC Medicaid program, a step that has the potential to increase the capacity and health of the behavioral health safety net. We will continue to explore new solutions at the local level to address the overdose crisis, including expansion of harm reduction strategies.

Question Three: What are the biggest challenges that you currently face?

The workforce shortage faced by organizations providing mental health and substance use treatment services represents one of the greatest threats to our collective wellbeing.

Without immediate investment in people and programs, organizations will continue to have difficulty meeting the historic demand for mental health and substance use treatment, let alone the influx we’re now seeing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recruiting and retaining employees is a huge barrier, with 97% of National Council members saying it has been difficult to recruit employees and 78% of them describing it as “very difficult.” The Mental Health Access Improvement Act (S. 828 /H.R. 432) and the Promoting Effective and Empowering Recovery Services in Medicare (PEERS) Act (S. 2144/H.R. 2767) outline federal solutions and are under consideration by Congress. States have numerous levers at their disposal to help organizations, improve the delivery of care and promote the wellbeing of people and communities, as we outlined in our policy paper with Health Management Associates (HMA). We must find a solution to the workforce shortage because our collective wellbeing is at stake.

Question Four: Why did you get involved in mental health?

My professional journey began 35 years ago. As a student at the Catholic University, I volunteered at an emergency shelter for homeless women in Washington, DC. I worked nights and was responsible for welcoming women into the shelter. Many were scared and vulnerable and as I talked with them, I realized that several were living with serious mental illness. I was moved by what I saw and wanted to do more. So, I started helping them navigate the complex city services systems and I could see that the system was not working for them – it did not make sense. These women deserved better. That’s when I decided to become a social worker. I wanted to help create a better treatment system. This is what drives me every day – the memory of those women and so many like them. I want to make a difference in people’s lives, and I believe the National Council is a proven instrument for change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (From National Council)

Chuck Ingoglia is the president and CEO of National Council for Mental Wellbeing. Before joining the National Council, Ingoglia provided policy and program design guidance to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Prior to becoming president and CEO of National Council for Mental Wellbeing, Ingoglia served as the senior vice president of public policy and practice improvement, where he directed the federal and state affairs function of the National Council and oversaw practice improvement and technical assistance programs offered to more than 500,000 mental health and substance use recovery professionals across the U.S. His efforts have centered on key issues such as parity, health care reform and improving the experience of mental health and substance use treatment engagement.

(Next Up on Monday: Final voice in this series: Michael Pollock, CEO of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. All views are those of the authors.) 

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.