County Partnership to Invest in Developing Local Talent for Behavioral Health Sector

The behavioral health workforce is getting a boost, thanks to a new program led by HealthForce Partners Northern San Joaquin Valley (HFP) and Behavior Health Services of San Joaquin County. HealthForce Partners received a $5.2M grant from the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors that will provide financial support for current employees to advance their careers as well as scholarships and loan forgiveness for local talent to access behavioral health careers.

Leaders from all three organizations and community-based organizations (CBOs), local educational institutions, hospitals, social services providers and nonprofits gathered today to publicly announce the Behavioral Health Workforce Partnership (BHWFP).

The unprecedented need for behavioral health providers–fueled by record rates of homelessness, chemical dependency, suicide and depression, which were amplified by the pandemic–have escalated the need to fill an already scarce pipeline of behavioral health professionals; workforce development is among the top recommended mitigation strategies by national health agencies.

“There is an urgent need for access to behavioral healthcare, and this new partnership will expand the workforce and therefore create opportunities for people to get the care they need,” said Paul Lanning, who took the helm as executive director for HealthForce Partners last June. “This grant is one more example of how collaboration can bring new solutions to the forefront regarding healthcare worker shortages and build an equitable and sustainable economy.”

A key element of the partnership is the recruitment and retention of local talent, most particularly those from historically divested groups. HealthForce Partners collaborates with local high schools, colleges and universities to develop career pathway programs for county residents.

“Ultimately, these types of career pathway programs can positively impact the economic and social fabric of our local communities,” said Lanning. “Local healthcare employees can take advantage of financial assistance to earn higher-level degrees and obtain certifications that will increase their salaries and enable social mobility. When you grow and upskill your own workforce, it increases the likelihood of retaining those employees, which lowers human resources costs for CBOs and healthcare providers. The positive outcomes from this program will be felt on so many levels–it’s a game-changer for San Joaquin County.”

Greg Diederich, director of San Joaquin County Health Care Services Agency, agrees. He says his organization is experiencing a prolonged and severe shortage of both employed and contracted behavioral health professionals, which is adversely affecting its ability to successfully implement both current and planned expansion programs.

“This is also the case with many community-based providers and school districts, and it is crippling the collective ability to provide mandated Medi-Cal services,” said Diederich. “I am very pleased the Board of Supervisors allocated funds to allow Health Care Services to collaborate with HealthForce Partners on the creation of new career pathways and incentives to recruit and retain a more robust local behavioral health workforce.”

According to a new report from the California Health Care Foundation, there are only 16 psychiatrists and psychologists, per 100,000 residents in the San Joaquin Valley. Prior to the pandemic, a University of the Pacific study, supported by HealthForce Partners, estimated a shortage of nearly 200 behavioral health professionals in San Joaquin County; that number has undeniably surged in the past three years.

The demand is extraordinary, says Lindy Turner Hardin, executive director of Child Abuse Prevention Council (CAPC), who, through her daily work, understands the positive impact more behavioral healthcare workers will have in the community.

“The mental health community has struggled to meet the need and demand for mental health services in our community,” said Turner Hardin. “This was largely because the career path to achieve the certifications and licenses required to provide these services were out of reach for many people. Today, that changes. This collaboration of our non-profits and our county leadership have made this path accessible, and as a result, mental health services far more accessible to our residents.”

The BHWP, funded by county American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds, will provide loan forgiveness and financial assistance to help attract local students into the field to stabilize the workforce. It will also expand paid internship and practicum placements, as well as provide supervision at CAPC and other local CBOs, such as El Concilio and Parents by Choice, enabling these organizations to expand their ability to deliver behavioral health programs in the communities they serve.

Over the course of the next four years HealthForce Partners will be managing and disbursing financial incentives, including scholarships, retention bonuses, fee payments and loan forgiveness, to current San Joaquin County employees who are eligible mental health professionals. The BHWP will be led by HFP’s first county director, Christina Gilbert, a lifelong Stocktonian, who has been a leader in the social services sector for three decades.

The collaboration builds on programs with similar components that boost healthcare career pathways with educational partners, University of the Pacific, Stanislaus State and San Joaquin Delta College, including the Helping Our People Elevate (HOPE) fast-track program for Registered Nurses, as well as allied health training programs for Certified Nursing Assistants and Medical Assistants.

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About HealthForce Partners Northern San Joaquin Valley – Celebrating its fifth year of transformative work in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, HealthForce Partners is a healthcare sector partnership that creates and implements new solutions to alleviate healthcare worker shortages. Composed of leaders from healthcare, education, government, and workforce development agencies, HealthForce Partners develops and supports programs that provide career pathways for local residents, help alleviate workforce shortages, and enhance the well-being of local communities.

About San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services – The mission of San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services is to partner with the community to provide integrated, culturally and linguistically competent mental health and substance abuse services to meet the prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery needs of San Joaquin County residents.

Key behavioral health statistics are attached.


The demand for behavioral health services will continue to rise with the expansion of Medi-Cal benefits to include more behavioral health services.

• In January 2023, Medi-Cal added specialty mental health services, significantly increasing the need for mental health staffing and support.

There has been a 32% increase in youth seeking mental health services in San Joaquin County over the past three years.

• According to Fay Viera, LMFT, deputy director of San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services CYS, there has been a 32% increase in youth seeking mental health services from Fiscal Year 19-20 to Fiscal Year 22-23. In addition, the vacancy rates for mental health clinicians have spiked from 17% to 24% during this same period.

There is a shortage of licensed psychiatrists and psychologists in the San Joaquin Valley, in California and nationwide.

• A new report from the California Health Care Foundation indicates that the Bay Area has 19 licensed psychiatrists and 73 licensed psychologists per 100,000 people, compared to the San Joaquin Valley, which has six psychiatrists and 16 psychologists for the equivalent number of people

The report also shows that one-third of California populations lives in an area that has a psychiatrist shortage.

• As of March 31, 2022, according to the Second Quarter Report from the Bureau of Health Workforce Health Resources and Services Administration HRSA, more than 6,000 mental health provider shortage areas were designated, which collectively contain more than one-third of Americans, or 135 million people. In these areas, the number of mental health providers available were adequate to meet only about 28% of the estimated need.

The pandemic exacerbated the need for mental health care nationwide.

• According to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an estimated 52 million adults in 2019 (approximately 21% of the U.S. adult population) reported having mental, behavioral or emotional disorders before the COVID-19 public health emergency. Additionally, 20 million people aged 12 or older attested to having substance use disorders.

Preliminary evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests a sharp increase in the number of adults reporting adverse behavioral health conditions during the pandemic, compared to prior years.

The pandemic exacerbated preexisting strains in the nation’s behavioral health services, especially among communities facing sustained hardship, including young people, the LGBTQ+ population and historically underrepresented populations.

• According to the American Hospital Association, “Behavioral Health advocacy strategies start with workforce development.”


by HFP | Apr 26 2023 10:40 AM
Behavioral Health