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Fairfax County behavioral health vacancies double amid pandemic

The Merrifield Center provides behavioral health services, responding to emergencies and administering other social services (via Google Maps)

Job vacancies at the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, which provides mental health, substance use and developmental disability services, have more than doubled since January 2021.

The CSB reported last week that the 193 vacancies have led it to consolidate two programs in recent months: a partial hospitalization program and New Generations, a treatment program for mothers and pregnant women. In January 2021, there were 91 vacancies.

“We do have some challenges in getting people into services as quickly as we would like to,” CSB Deputy Director of Clinical Operations Lyn Tomlinson said.

The vacancies come as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased needs for mental health patients, but several factors are involved, including a “nationwide shortage of behavioral health care professionals,” according to Daryl Washington, the executive director of the Fairfax-Falls Church CSB.

Like in other professions, the worker shortage has been driven by burnout from the pandemic and compensation, among other factors, a National Council for Mental Wellbeing survey found last fall.

The number of graduates is also not keeping up with those retiring.

A January 2022 report by the Virginia Health Care Foundation found that, even though the state has 40 graduate-level behavioral health programs that produce nearly 800 graduates annually, not enough of them become licensed “to maintain even the current inadequate supply” of professionals.

“The workforce shortages that existed in the Commonwealth and in each of the five licensed [behavioral health] professionals before the pandemic have been exacerbated exponentially,” the report said.

Washington said it may take years to resolve and affect the region for the next decade.

The Fairfax-Falls Church CSB currently employs around 1,100 merit staff and a few hundred more part-time staff. Needs include case managers, a position that requires an undergrad degree in a human services field, and social workers, who must have a master’s degree and supervised experience.

County Executive Bryan Hill has proposed a 4% raise for workers across the board in the Fairfax County’s upcoming budget, plus additional increases, after pay froze during the pandemic. The Board of Supervisors is slated to adopt the budget May 10.

The proposed budget adds four CSB positions for the county’s Diversion First efforts, 4.5 positions for its residential treatment and detoxification services, and one position for emergency services, Washington said.

The budget also allocates money to fund a coresponder program involving 17 CSB positions and money for police positions.

Washington said he’s already spoken to staff who feel the increases were enough to encourage them to stay. He’s optimistic that the proposed salary changes will help with retention and recruitment.

“I really think that that’s going to make us much more competitive in the job market,” he said. “Salaries have really accelerated during the time of the pandemic, like I’ve not seen in my 25-year career before.”

Photo via Google Maps

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