NJAMHAA - 2021 Advocacy Piece

3 C ommunity-based behavioral health organizations aremission driven and strive to treat and lift up the most vulnerable among us. Individuals who enter the behavioral health field invest years andmany thousands of dollars in their education to work in highly stressful, demanding positions that generally offer less competitive wages, often starting at less than they can currently earn in retail establishments. Turnover, always high, has increased amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and recruitment has become more challenging than ever. Providers, facing a workforce crisis for many years, are unable to fill positions, which increases workloads on others until programcapacitymust be reduced, making access to care evenmore difficult when the need is growing exponentially. For eight years prior to the transition to fee-for-service (FFS) reimbursement, New Jersey’s mental health and substance use treatment programs received no cost of living adjustments. The initial FFS rates, based on salaries and other cost data that was already years old, resulted in deficits across programs that totaled over $25million in the aggregate. Several programs closed immediately; others have followed or have reduced their capacity. Additionally, as New Jersey implemented newminimumwage requirements that continue to rise, no funding has been provided to these programs to support those increases. Burnout and lowwages have always driven even themost dedicated professionals from the field of behavioral health; amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with greater personal risk and increased demands, both personal and professional, the workforce crisis is reaching a tipping point. Staffmembers who are working with a population at high risk for coronavirus have had to struggle to be recognized as healthcare workers on the front line. They deserve to be protected as the frontline healthcare workers they are, included in the top tier for both personal protective equipment (PPE) and vaccine distribution. And they deserve wages commensurate with their education, experience and value to not only those they serve, but to our communities and our state. Invest in a Quality, Stable Workforce for a Better Future Appropriate funds to behavioral health programs to cover the costs of increases to the minimumwage. BUDGET PRIORITY Include the behavioral healthcare workforce in the top tier for PPE and vaccine distribution. POLICY PRIORITY