Fourfront Contributor providers developing innovative ways to improve access to behavioral health services in Washington


Shane Ersland


Fourfront Contributor providers are collaborating to develop innovative approaches for improving access to behavioral healthcare in Washington.


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Fourfront Contributor features four of the state’s largest community healthcare providers who advocate for policies and initiatives to improve healthcare outcomes for low-income populations. It includes Comprehensive Healthcare, Frontier Behavioral Health, Compass Health, and Sound.

Dr. Jodi Daly, president and CEO of Comprehensive Healthcare, said addressing the state’s crisis-level workforce shortage is Fourfront’s main priority.

“This situation is years in the making,” Daly said. “The mental health needs of our communities have become increasingly urgent over the past three years. While we’re still coming to terms with the impacts of the pandemic on the mental health of our residents, the truth is systemic funding issues have chronically hampered our ability as providers to keep pace with growing needs [since] long before COVID.”

Funding issues have compounded to create unprecedented workforce shortages, forcing providers to limit services due to lack of staff, Daly said.

“Without adopting a sustainable funding system that will allow us to stabilize the current workforce landscape, we’re unable to adequately ensure access to our core services, let alone consider expanding programs and offerings to keep pace with demand,” Daly said.

Jeff Thomas, CEO of Frontier Behavioral Health, said Fourfront Contributor is advocating for both short and long-term solutions to address issues that are putting unsustainable pressures on the state’s behavioral health system.

“The key long-term solution we’re supporting is the statewide adoption of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) model, a nationally-proven, evidence-based approach that will help ensure the sustainability of high-quality community behavioral health,” Thomas said. “We believe this model is an ideal solution for Washington as it will address the most critical issues facing behavioral health, inadequate funding and record workforce shortages, by enabling providers to receive fair compensation for services.”

This will allow providers to offer competitive compensation to recruit and retain staff to ensure programs and facilities remain open and ready to serve community members, Thomas said.

Fourfront Contributor providers are excited that state leaders approved funding for a study for CCBHC model adoption during the last legislative session, Thomas said.

“Now we’re focused on supporting the state’s application for a federal planning grant, which is the next step toward becoming a demonstration site for the CCBHC model,” Thomas said.

Some of Fourfront Contributor’s top priorities for short-term solutions to address workforce shortages include advocating for increased Medicaid rates, expanding investments in student loan repayment programs, utilizing staff in new and different roles, and supporting licensure reciprocity with neighboring states, Thomas said. Those who wish to stay up to date on Fourfront Contributor’s advocacy efforts can subscribe to its newsletter.

According to the University of Washington, a quarter of Washington residents don’t have access to mental health services. Daly said offering more competitive pay will help providers attract the healthcare professionals needed to keep pace with the state’s demand for mental health services.

“For example, at Comprehensive Healthcare, we recently took the step of using one-time funding to offer incentives like higher pay and student loan forgiveness,” Daly said. “A recent increase in salaries led to a 24% increase in resume submissions for behavioral health associates and case managers. As a system, we need better supports so we can make that type of compensation more systemic and sustainable.”

Fourfront Contributor member organizations are also supporting innovative approaches like engaging in mobile crisis team outreach, utilizing peer counselors to support treatment and recovery, and strengthening partnerships with local law enforcement, schools, and other community agencies, Daly said.

Tom Sebastian, president and CEO of Compass Health, said Fourfront Contributor’s collaborations with partners like the Washington Council for Behavioral Health, peer agencies, philanthropic organizations, and other industry leaders have helped the organization grow.

“From exploring potential solutions with our philanthropic partners to executing population-level research of behavioral healthcare and operational models with our payor organizations, these partnerships enable us to truly drive meaningful change within the behavioral health system,” Sebastian said.

Fourfront Contributor is committed to serving as a trusted, expert resource for our partners and others interested in learning more about the challenges we’re facing as community behavioral health providers, and the solutions that could help address these challenges.”