Experts explain why it may be more difficult to find mental health professionals in Bay Area

Luz Pena Image
Tuesday, March 26, 2024
Burnout leading to shortage of Bay Area mental health professionals
Bay Area mental health professionals are "burned out" leading to a "difficult" workforce shortage that's impacting California.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Mental health professionals are reaching a breaking point. The exodus and lack of mental health professionals are alarming Bay Area experts.

"The most difficult workforce shortage that I have seen in this field in 30 years," said David Mineta, CEO of Momentum for Health.

Momentum for Health serves more than 4,000 individuals experiencing behavioral health challenges in Silicon Valley every year.

RESOURCES: Get help with mental health issues

"It's happening all throughout the Bay Area. It's happening throughout the state right now" said Mineta when speaking about the shortage.

Mineta's team is seeing the challenges of attracting and retaining mental health professionals firsthand.

"It takes us a longer time to hire a licensed clinician and that extra time means the existing staff have to see more people. They are already tired after three and a half years of the pandemic and people were already burned out," said Mineta.

Their data shows communities of color are experiencing the biggest shortage.

Luz Pena: "What led to this?"

David Mineta: "A lot of things. As we know it's a high-cost living area... A lot of the graduate schools got smaller so the pool just got smaller. Now we are seeing that the baby boomers are retiring. We are seeing a big influx out of the field."

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A report by the Silicon Valley Institute for Regional Studies found that after surveying students earning degrees in behavioral health:

"Approximately 25% of plan to stay in Santa Clara County and another 25% say they may remain in the Bay Area; the major roadblock is the cost of living."

"We knew we had a problem before the pandemic. There were more therapists and substance use counselors and psychiatrists and peer counselors that were retiring or leaving the profession than were coming into it," said Elisa Koff-Ginsborg, Executive Director of the Behavioral Health Contractors' Association of Santa Clara County.

Koff-Ginsborg believes higher salaries could help retain and attract more professionals to stay in the Bay Area.

MORE: California launches free apps offering youth mental health services

"What we need are higher competitive rates so that we can maintain a strong workforce and a safety net," said Koff-Ginsborg.

The shortage of mental health professionals is also impacting the legal system.

"We have clients who are spending sometimes months longer than they need to in mental health facilities locked up psychiatric facilities and hospital wards because the doctors agree they could be safely in the community with adequate support but there aren't the mental health professionals available to work with them," said Tal Klement, Deputy San Francisco Public Defender Office Mental Health Unit.

Experts are urging the government to intervene.

"Turning their attention to this issue is how that gets solved," said Mineta.

The federal government is incentivizing future mental health professionals with loan payment programs, and stipends for interns who go into the public behavioral health system.

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