January Policy & Advocacy Update

Helping the Helpers Has Never Been More Important

Written by James Curtin, Chief Business & Government Relations Officer, Acenda

President Biden, in his first State of the Union address last year, highlighted the mental health struggles so many Americans are facing as a result of the pandemic. Our Nation’s Drug Czar has correctly focused on workforce issues when it comes to having the capacity to meet the continually rising demand for mental health and treatment for substance use disorders. Practically every industry in our country is suffering from workforce shortages. Many employees have disappeared from the workplace since 2020. While many have begun to look at life in a drastically different way than before the pandemic resulting in a shifting of priorities now weighted much more towards family and health, given the devastation caused by the pandemic.

When it comes to prioritizing, funding, and an overall focus on the mental health and addiction crises, the Biden administration really stepped up in 2022. Read more here.

Efforts made by Federal Government and State Governments across the country to focus on social and human services have been, in many cases, unprecedented. They’re all very much needed and not just in the world of substance use disorder and mental health whether it is prevention, treatment, and/or recovery support services but also inclusive of social services in general.

Another example includes the recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that it has awarded nearly $245 million to support mental health across youth mental health. In addition to supporting the healthcare workforce to address mental health needs, and funding other critical mental health supports. The recently passed Omnibus bill that will fund the country up until September 2023, is stocked with critical funding, as well.

As an advocate, I celebrate one of the most meaningful sessions of Congress in recent memory and the historic gains 2022 has gifted to our field while beginning 2023 with serious concerns about our workforce. The concern lies with the ever-growing shortage of behavioral healthcare workers and the burnout that accompanies the shortage.

Included in the budget for the new year, stands $40 million for the Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Loan Repayment Program to educate and train substance use disorder treatment professionals. However, so much more is needed to both “help the helpers” now in 2023 and to expand the workforce. A dwindling workforce leads to existing staff being grossly overworked with unmanageable caseloads.

States must be creative in efforts to attract people to fields of:

  • Substance use prevention, treatment, and recovery services
  • Mental health treatment and support
  • Youth maternal health
  • Housing
  • Services to children and families

There is no doubt the Federal Government has a need to expand access to care and reduce barriers that prevent many people from getting the help they need. Additionally, both short and long-term initiatives aimed at retaining, developing, and attracting staff, reducing burnout, and creating a strong workforce pipeline for the future is imperative.

Our helpers deserve this kind of action.

States with unspent American Rescue Plan Dollars (ARPA) should look no further than providing incentives to healthcare workers. Discretionary funds stemming from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the more recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill should do the same. Regulatory relief will be equally important to allow providers some discretion on who gets hired to fill positions that have long been vacant. Understandably, state agencies had the responsibility to both fund and regulate human services providers and are often leery about allowing for exceptions related to educational and licensure requirements. However, all too often, state agencies have had the same workforce standards in place for decades.

We must and will fight to advance policies to expand access to highly effective, equitable treatment and support for anyone who needs it. However, we cannot assume that an adequate workforce will be in place to meet the rising demand.