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The Mental Health Sector Identifies Staffing Gaps

The Mental Health Sector Identifies Staffing Gaps

Last year, staffing problems at the Alabama Department of Mental Health led to a temporary halt in admissions at one of the three state institutions offering comprehensive mental health services. According to ADMH Commissioner Kim Boswell, an area at another facility had to be closed because of a staffing shortage. 

Boswell said, “Our ability to build out the crisis system of care is entirely contingent on our ability to recruit,” about the ongoing project to open crisis centers across the state.

A staffing shortage that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic has only gotten worse outside of hospitals, where community-based providers use ADMH money to provide mental health, intellectual disability, and drug addiction services to thousands of Alabamans. In the autumn of 2020, its members, who are public and nonprofit providers, had about 740 staff openings, according to the Alabama Council for Behavioral Healthcare. There were 1,142 open positions as of January this year.

Both clinical staffs with medical training and entry-level employees who can give patients direct care without special training are in limited supply within the ADMH structure.

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Further, according to Caraway McCorkle, they are losing individuals to school systems. The demands of society must be met while paying at a different rate. Boswell informed ADN that since the department’s request to increase pay for entry-level direct care jobs by $2 per hour to approximately $14 to $16 per hour, depending on the shift, was granted, the hospital’s staffing situation has improved.

The daily care required to support treatments is provided by those employees, even though they are not delivering clinical healthcare. Additionally, Boswell noted that they are the ones who interact with our customers the most. We need help attracting and retaining that particular cohort.

Boswell asked legislators for a funding increase of $41.4 million on 15th February 2023, with a large portion of that sum going towards paying staff at community providers more money in the upcoming fiscal year 2024. During a budget meeting held at the State House before the legislative session, Boswell said, “One of the essential things we’d like to do is align wages across settings.” 

Boswell was instructed by Rep. Pebblin Warren, a Democrat from Tuskegee, to approach legislators forcefully. Warren said I want the Legislature to recognize a catastrophe here. The department is experimenting with several strategies to keep and increase its staff.

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Teena McGuinness, a member of the Alabama National Alliance on Mental Illness and emerita professor at the University of Alabama Birmingham’s School of Nursing, said mental health issues are now more manageable than ever. McGuinness asserted that the labor shortage would persist if Alabama did not construct its pipeline.

According to McGuinness, expanding the scope of practice for psychiatric nurse practitioners is another method to increase care. According to her, the 26 states that give nurses more freedom are luring nurses away from Alabama. McGuinness declared, “We can’t keep doing this.” People perish when they lack recourse to mental health care.

Boswell also discussed strategies for helping more needy people, such as increased telehealth choices for youth services. In the meantime, the counties of Madison and Lee need to build more inpatient mental beds for children.

According to Boswell, when young people require inpatient treatment, about 800 are transported outside the Huntsville region annually. Meanwhile, the demand for inpatient treatment has overtaken Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital. The development of a structure for children that resembles the work they’ve been doing for adults is a large part of what you’re starting to see right now, according to Boswell, who noted that the situation is dire.

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