ComWell’s Shea Haury joins IABH members as advocates before the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health Committee regarding workforce shortages that directly impact local services.
Senator Laura Fine (D-9th District, Glenview), Chair of the Senate Behavioral and Mental Health Committee, convened a subject matter hearing on Friday, October 22, 2021, regarding the ongoing crisis that behavioral healthcare providers are experiencing in retaining and recruiting staff.
Following the opening testimony from IABH CEO Jud DeLoss, Shea Haury, the Executive Director of ComWell, provided detailed testimony that illustrated the severity of the workforce crisis.
Haury began her testimony by describing ComWell’s important role in supporting the community of Southern Illinois and how its services serve more than 1,600 individuals each year.
As an experienced behavioral health professional with 22 years’ experience, Haury discussed her many positions and challenges including the lack of a state budget impacting contracts, the opioid and methamphetamine crisis, funding reduction and elimination, a pandemic and most recently, a workforce shortage.
“I have always viewed these challenges as opportunities,” Haury said.
She viewed them as opportunities to improve services delivered with less money, be more creative by restructuring the organization after funding ended and a chance to identify barriers that prevented most service processes from being effective.
“However, we must have people,” Haury said. “There is no creative way around having no staff.”
She explained the gaps behavioral health field employers face in recruiting and retaining staff. Clinical leaders invest countless hours supervising and training new clinicians only to see them become licensed and move into employment that pays nearly twice as much as community mental health does.
She pointed out that individuals can make equivalent to what an executive director of a community mental health agency makes by working for the state by working for the prison system or other institutional setting; the VA system or by working for a managed care organization. In addition, she mentioned that with ComWell being located just 60 miles from Missouri, it is very convenient for individuals to seek higher paying employment elsewhere.
“I understand this hearing is about workforce shortages, but it is so much more than that,” Haury said. “It is about a system knitted together with barely sustainable rates and complex and ever changing regulatory requirements, varying by payer and program, in an environment where we were already barely hanging on and then this, this was the precipice that quickly unraveled an already broken system.”
Haury summarized rate increases that took place between Fiscal Year 2002 and Fiscal Year 2022, which totaled 13.5% for the substance use program, and 44.1% for the Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments. She further pointed out the additional cost associated with paying for technology in order to facilitate the increased data collection and reporting required by clinicians.
“The investment in the services we provide are not parallel to the expectations required of us,” Haury said. “As a Community Behavioral Health provider, we are told we are a safety net agency. We are less costly than inpatient care, prison and institutional care. Yet we are not prioritized accordingly in terms of funding.”
She expressed the vital need for more funding saying, “we are hanging on with nothing but a few strands barely held together and ready to break at any time.”
About ComWell: We are committed to empowering individuals to pursue growth and wellness by promoting positive, healthy changes for individuals and communities through engagement, education, treatment and recovery. In 1971, we saw a need for support and we answered the call. ComWell services work together to achieve our goal of bringing wellness to our communities. ComWell is the beacon of community wellness and bridging the gap from individual to resource.