Grafton in Action – August 2021

With a new school year approaching and COVID-19 not yet out of sight, we know the need for behavioral health services will be extremely high this fall. Many special needs children have gone without in-person therapy and schooling for the last 18 months, and some will inevitably struggle when returning to the classroom. Providers like Grafton are an essential resource for students who can’t find the level of support they need elsewhere. And it is our responsibility to help them thrive.

Despite the increasing demand for services, behavioral healthcare continues to be underfunded throughout the United States. While other industries can save money by cutting back on staff or automating jobs, that’s not possible or preferable in our field. Staff—people—are at the absolute core of what we do. A machine will never be able to replicate the skills of a therapist or the kindness shown by one of our direct service providers. Their dedication to our clients is of enormous value—not only to Grafton, but to the parents, families, and communities that depend on us.

Behavioral health staff arguably do one of the most important jobs in the world. But it’s no secret that the current funding model doesn’t allow our industry to pay these workers the salaries they deserve. This has contributed to many organizations losing staff over the course of the pandemic—resulting in fewer beds and resources for clients in crisis. And the timing couldn’t be worse. According to one study, mental health insurance claims for children ages 13 to 18 doubled in 2020, compared to 2019. With demand for our services on the rise, Grafton and other healthcare providers need more staff, not less. And that staff, who are working harder than ever, deserve to be paid accordingly.

While there’s no quick fix to the staffing and funding issues facing our industry, there are ways that we all can work together to effect change:

  • Embrace a philanthropy model. Where there are gaps in federal, state, and local funding, the generosity of those in our communities can fill the void. Support from private philanthropy can help behavioral health organizations maintain a robust staff, renovate facilities, and cover general operating costs. A steady stream of unrestricted funding would also make it possible to increase pay for our employees, while attracting new, qualified applicants.
  • Advocate for change. State and federal governments haven’t had a chance to catch up with the surging needs related to mental and behavioral health. All of us have a responsibility to ensure that leaders at all levels understand the needs that are not being met and what can be done to improve the system. With conversations around mental health being spotlighted more than ever, we have a unique opportunity to raise awareness.

As we head into the fall season, let’s work together to ensure the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities are being met, in spite of the challenges. It won’t always be easy, but things worth doing rarely are.

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