Staffing issues in mental health and drug treatment facilities are a significant barrier to care, the Skagit County Board of Health discussed Tuesday.

In a survey from the county’s Population Health Trust, behavioral health leaders reported issues with workforce development and retention, said Kristen Ekstran, community health planner with county Public Health.

Stakeholders agreed Medicaid’s reimbursement rate to behavioral health providers is low. This leads to difficulties in hiring and offering competitive wages, which reduce the availability of both outpatient and inpatient services.

The survey also identified a lack of culturally informed services and a mismatch of access along race lines, Ekstran said.

At the state level, work is underway to address some of these issues.

Teresa Claycamp, integrated managed care programs manager with the state Health Care Authority, said at the meeting that workforce development is a priority. New educational programs will focus on making behavioral health a more attractive and viable field.

Jason McGill, with the state Health Care Authority’s Medicaid Programs division, said there are encouraging developments on the way for reimbursement rates.

County Commissioner Lisa Janicki, who sits on the county Board of Health, said stimulus funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act has given local governments an opportunity to make tangible improvements.

“It’s never been like this before,” she said. “It’s a time to be thinking big and dreaming big.”

She said it’s time to think about what kind of impact the county could have by using this funding to improve access to care and outreach to minority communities.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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