New Assessment Finds Alarming Shortage of Virginia Licensed Behavioral Health Professionals and Outlines Attainable Solutions

For Immediate Release

Debbie Oswalt, Executive Director
Virginia Health Care Foundation
(804) 828-5804


New Assessment Finds Alarming Shortage of Virginia
Licensed Behavioral Health Professionals
and Outlines Attainable Solutions

 [Richmond, Virginia, January 18, 2022]   The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a tsunami of stressors, resulting in a mental health crisis. Behavioral health (BH) professionals throughout the Commonwealth are overwhelmed and Virginians are unable to get the help they need. Most mental health experts indicate that various pandemic-related traumas (e.g., depression, anxiety, panic disorder) and their after-effects will continue far into the future. Unfortunately, the need for BH services is expected to continue to outpace the capacity of Virginia’s licensed BH workforce.

Clear evidence of the current problem and an alarming future if solutions are not undertaken can be found in an Assessment of the Capacity of Virginia’s Licensed Behavioral Health Workforce just released by the Virginia Health Care Foundation (VHCF). The shortage of BH professionals is not a new problem; the severity of the shortage is.

“The tremendous need for mental health services caused by the pandemic and its many ripple effects led the Foundation to make the increased availability of basic mental health services for all Virginians an even greater priority. The Assessment is a critical component of the Foundation’s enhanced focus on behavioral health. It will help guide future VHCF BH initiatives and investments of time and resources”, explains Deborah Oswalt, VHCF Executive Director.

The Assessment provides statewide and locality-specific data on the capacity of each of Virginia’s five types of licensed BH professionals; data regarding Virginia’s pipeline to produce more licensed BH professionals; the current demand for them; and the consequences of an inadequate supply. It also includes several recommendations for actions and initiatives to help address the concerning shortages of these valuable providers.

The Assessment can also help public and private organizations that want to increase access to mental health services prioritize investments of time and resources. In addition, it can be used as a baseline to measure progress toward expanding Virginia’s behavioral health workforce.

Summary of Key Findings

Virginia regularly ranks at the top of national scorecards as the best state for business and a top state for public education. When it comes to availability of BH services, that is not the case.

  • A large and disproportionate number of Virginia’s licensed BH professionals are at or nearing retirement age (61% of Psychiatrists are age 55 or older).
  • 93 of Virginia’s 133 localities are federally-designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas; 37% of Virginians (3.2 million) live in them. Two localities have no licensed BH professionals; 35 have no trained BH prescriber (Psychiatrist, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner).
  • Virginia’s BH workforce does not reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the Commonwealth’s population.
  • In many communities with no or a few BH professionals, a large number of households do not have broadband internet access and are unable to access tele-health services. One-in-five Virginians (20%) live in these communities.
  • Virginia localities with no or a few BH professionals have poorer outcomes on key BH indicators than localities with more BH professionals.
  • Although Virginia’s 40 graduate-level BH programs, combined, graduate nearly 800 individuals annually, the number who ultimately become licensed is insufficient to maintain even the current inadequate supply of BH professionals.

It will take a variety of short- and long-term strategies over a number of years to address Virginia’s significant shortage of licensed BH professionals. Some immediate solutions, which will be considered by the General Assembly during the current legislative session include:

  • Virginia’s participation in Interstate Compacts that authorize reciprocity of licensure for BH professionals from member states;
  • State funding for more psychiatric residencies and Fellowships; and
  • State payment for the clinical supervision requirement for licensure.

“Virginia is a ‘can-do’ state,” says Ms. Oswalt, “It has succeeded each time its leaders have focused on elevating the state’s performance in a particular area or ranking.

The multi-dimensionality of solutions requires cross-sector engagement, focus, and investments of time, money and attention targeted to those which will produce measurable results.”

About the Virginia Health Care Foundation

The Virginia Health Care Foundation (VHCF) is a public/private partnership initiated in 1992 by Virginia’s General Assembly and its Joint Commission on Health Care. Its mission is to increase access to primary health care for uninsured and medically underserved Virginians.

VHCF has focused on increasing access to basic mental health services, particularly for uninsured and underserved Virginians, since 2009. It has invested nearly $10 million to make licensed BH professionals, tele-mental health services, and BH best practices such as integrated and trauma-informed care, available to organizations throughout the Commonwealth.

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Last Updated on January 19, 2022