Cynthia Persily, PhD, RN, FAAN
Dr. Persily is the CEO of Highland Hospital in Charleston, WV.
It’s always great to share good news. The good news to celebrate this week is that our outpatient business, Highland Behavioral Health Services, Inc. (otherwise known as Process Strategies), was designated by the federal Health Resources Service Administration (HRSA) as a Mental Health/ Health Professions Shortage Area (MH HPSA).
On the surface, this perhaps doesn’t sound like something to celebrate. In order to receive this designation, a geographic area must meet several criteria including the existing need for mental health services, the overuse or inaccessibility of mental health providers in contiguous geographic areas, and a population-to-core-mental-health-professional ratio greater than or equal to 6,000:1 and a population-to-psychiatrist ratio greater than or equal to 20,000:1. Essentially, this designation tells us that there is a greater need for behavioral health services than can be provided by existing personnel.
We already know this, as we try to serve an ever increasing population with mental health needs. We know that recruiting behavioral health professionals is increasingly difficult. So, how will this designation benefit us? More than 37 federal programs depend on the shortage designation to determine eligibility or funding preference as a way to increase the number of physicians and other health professionals who practice in those designated areas. These include the National Health Service Corps, State Loan Repayment Programs for Health Professionals, and the Conrad-30/J1 visa waiver program. Some designated areas are eligible for the Medicare Physician Bonus programs. Many health care facilities depend on the benefits of the shortage designation to provide access to care for their underserved communities.
For Process Strategies, we believe that this designation will be a value to us—having loan repayment programs available will help us to recruit valued professionals who may be overwhelmed with debt burden from their education. We will have access to a number of grant programs that we may not have had available in the past. And, finally, we may qualify for increased funding as a result of this designation—which will be helpful to our bottom line.
Most importantly however, this designation can afford us an opportunity to provide the best care to our patients and their families, by attracting a highly qualified cadre of health professionals who believe in our mission of providing high quality behavioral health services to our underserved community. So, let’s celebrate!!!