Workforce Tracker Finds Large Variation in Healthcare Providers Offering Behavioral Health Services Nationwide

First-of-a-kind online tool launched today by the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity at the George Washington University

WASHINGTON (April 19, 2022) — As the world enters the third year of the pandemic, concerns about the behavioral health workforce crisis are making national headlines in the United States. In response, President Biden has made strengthening the behavioral health workforce a priority.Quantifying the behavioral health workforce has remained elusive due to scarce data and little consensus as to the provider types to include in workforce definitions. While experts have called for the creation of a minimum data set to facilitate planning efforts, no comprehensive database of the behavioral health workforce has been developed–until now.

Today researchers at the George Washington University launched an online tool that tracks the location and numbers of psychiatric specialists, counselors, therapists,  and other members of the U.S. behavioral health workforce, including primary care professionals who provide some mental health services. The tool will help policymakers identify and plug gaps in this workforce. A strong behavioral health workforce is urgently needed to help with the current crisis of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other serious mental health issues in the United States.

 “In the midst of a national mental health crisis, it is important to know where there are gaps in available providers to treat rising anxiety, depression and substance use,” Clese Erikson, Principal Investigator Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity at the George Washington University, said. “This tool is the first-of-its-kind to document the breadth of the workforce providing behavioral health services. We hope it will give health care organizations and policy leaders the information they need to make better decisions to strengthen the workforce and improve mental health.”

To create the workforce tracker, the GW researchers used novel data sources and state licensure data to identify approximately 1.2 million providers. This first-of-a-kind interactive map allows researchers, and policymakers to compare the number of providers in states and counties with the goal of identifying gaps in access to behavioral health services, including providers that take Medicaid, prescribe addiction treatment and treat serious mental illness.

The Behavioral Health Workforce Tracker  was launched by the GW Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity. Key findings from the tracker:

  • There are over 600,000 behavioral health specialists in the United States. This workforce includes psychiatrists, child and adolescent psychiatrists, addiction psychiatrists, addiction medicine specialists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, and marriage and family therapists.

  • Primary care providers, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants, are a large part of the behavioral workforce with over 400,000 primary care physicians and advanced practice providers identified as prescribing behavioral health medications.

  • The tool, which can show state variation in the strength of the behavioral health workforce, reveals the states with the highest supply of psychiatric and addiction medicine specialists relative to population are located in the Northeast. In contrast, the highest supply of counselors and therapists relative to population is concentrated in the mountain states.

  • Half of all counties in the US (50%) did not have an active psychiatrist or addiction medicine specialist in 2020.

  • Nearly one out of four (23%) behavioral health prescribers did not treat Medicaid beneficiaries in 2020.

  • At a time of rising rates of opioid addiction, the majority of providers with the waiver needed to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction do not do so.  In 2020, we find only 38% of providers with this waiver actually prescribed buprenorphine to treat addiction.

The interactive map was conducted by Erikson and her colleagues at the GW Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity, which is based at the Milken Institute School of Public Health. The Mullan Institute works to help support a diverse and healthy workforce in the United States and globally.  This tool was developed in partnership with HealthLandscape and funded through a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

To learn more about the Behavioral Health Workforce Tracker, click here