In the coming weeks and months, the Compass Health community will hear a deafening alarm: Washington state’s community behavioral health system is in crisis.
A confluence of issues – decades of underfunding, steadily growing need for behavioral health care among our most vulnerable populations, and record vacancies among mental health professionals – are threatening the very sustainability of the vital services that Compass Health and our peers provide across the state.
In response, Compass Health has joined forces with three other large community behavioral health providers across the state to raise awareness and advocate for systemic changes to create a sustainable future for our community behavioral health system. Our leadership and advocacy collective, called Fourfront Contributor, includes Compass Health, Comprehensive Healthcare in Central Washington, Frontier Behavioral Health in Spokane, and Sound in King County.
The key issue is that despite recent state investments, record workforce shortages persist in community behavioral health – largely due to unsustainable funding models and an inability to provide competitive compensation to professionals. Without staff, providers cannot deliver care. Washington’s community behavioral health agencies are making organizational shifts to cope with limited capacity, and even turning away those seeking services at alarming rates.
The downstream effects are monumental: generational impacts on adults and children who can’t access mental health and substance use disorder treatment when they need it most; and the destabilization of our safety net, including additional burdens on law enforcement, medical providers and other community partners when individuals’ unmet needs escalate and become more costly.
In September 2021, we and our partners in Fourfront Contributor shared insights on these issues with healthcare decision-makers at the 2021 Inland Northwest State of Reform Health Policy Conference. Heading into the 2022 legislative session, we will continue to raise awareness with policymakers and other stakeholders until the future of our community behavioral health system is secure.