Workforce Shortage in Community Behavioral Health Worsens Healthcare Crisis

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of U.S. adults nationally reported experiencing mental health issues associated with Covid-19. In our own state, there are clear signs that our own community is struggling. The Washington Department of Health reported that more than 3 million Washingtonians had significant behavioral health issues in the months after the pandemic began, a 16% increase in calls to crisis lines, a notable increase in substance use and a deeply troubling 24% surge in overdose related deaths in King County.

It’s very clear that our community is in crisis. Even with the state reopening on June 30, the lingering effects of the pandemic will be felt for months, even years, to come.

Speak with any behavioral health professional, and they’d tell you that the growing need for quality behavioral healthcare isn’t surprising. The real issue, unfortunately, is that there are not enough community behavioral health workers to meet the growing need. These two factors, increased need and limited workforce, are creating an unprecedented healthcare crisis.

The community behavioral health workforce atrophied by 11% in the last year, according to the Washington Council on Behavioral Health. It takes months to fill vacancies. Some providers must turn clients away simply due to staffing shortages – with vacancy rates varying from provider to provider. Despite Sound’s vacancy rates for clinical staff standing currently at more than 70 people, we have not had to turn clients away.

Sound Works Through Challenges

Though we have made recruitment a top strategic priority at Sound, recruiting qualified and talented people has, needless to say, presented challenges. We know it takes extraordinary and uniquely passionate people to work in our industry and we are doing everything we can to attract and retain bright and talented people. Sound was inspired to develop creative ways to take care of our people because the work is challenging, there is increased competition from private practice, there are large healthcare systems and federally operated providers that can pay more and there are low Medicaid rates.

Sound offers competitive benefits and compensation packages, provides a 401k matching program, provides paid health benefits for team members and their children, offers free supervision to new clinicians, offers robust career advancement opportunities and is engaged in some of the most unique and distinctive programs regionally – to make Sound an attractive place to work. 

Despite this, the workforce issues we’re all experiencing continue to worsen the growing healthcare crisis in this community. When providers like ours do not have adequate numbers of team members, clients cannot receive access to the quality behavioral healthcare services they deserve. As these clients continue to go without services, the community as a whole experiences the burden. More people who should be in an outpatient program, ultimately strain first responders, law enforcement, the emergency care system and, of course, the community as a whole. We need our workforce to grow, for our clients and our community.

Knowing this, we continue efforts to support workforce. Sound actively participates with the Washington Council to lobby our senators and representatives for rate increases, our President & CEO, Patrick Evans, is part of Fourfront Contributor, a coalition of three other Washington state behavioral health providers that advocates with business and elected leadership to improve the health of individuals, communities and the systems that serve them. We empower our team members to speak with their elected officials about the need for increased Medicaid dollars.

With all that Sound is doing to prepare for the increasing need out in our community, the challenge of building a workforce ready to take on the challenges continues to be our highest priority. We are seeking motivated, passionate, creative and dedicated people to help us serve the community in which we all live. To learn more about the work we do, the people we serve and what makes Sound such a great place to work, visit us at

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