Gov. Northam’s pay hikes could remedy understaffing at state behavioral health facilities – State of Reform


Beginning in July, employees in the state of Virginia will receive paychecks that include a five percent wage increase. Governor Ralph Northam and the state legislature approved the 2020-2022 state budget last March and saved $ 2 billion after freezing newly enacted spending spending last year due to the pandemic, which will help pay increases.

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In the healthcare sector, salary increases could increase competition for what officials say are critically understaffed public behavioral health facilities, according to at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. According to a press release from Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DHDDS), public hospitals have more than 20% of vacancies, and up to 54% in some regions.

The state has to rely on expensive resources such as locums, contract staff and international nursing programs to help fill vacant positions. DBDHS spokesperson Lauren Cunningham said spending pressure on these resources, along with an insufficient patient-to-provider ratio, is a major concern for staff and patient safety.

“The high census makes an already difficult environment extremely difficult and there is already significant stress on the DBHDS facilities. Adequate staffing levels are a major concern across the healthcare industry as the pandemic is pushing many workers into positions that pose less risk to their personal health and well-being. COVID-19 has exacerbated this problem and made it more difficult to attract frontline workers. “

The state allocated funds to behavioral health professionals in 2018 and 2019, which increased salaries for key positions and historically lower paying positions. However, providers often choose to work in private establishments for higher wages or better working hours. Cunningham said:

“While the private healthcare sector may offer larger enrollment bonuses and better compensation packages, DBHDS does not have the flexibility of other healthcare providers to adapt to changes in the market. As a result, we are losing many employees to other healthcare systems and industries. This environment creates a hyper competitive market for scarce resources. We are continuing intensive recruiting efforts, but the pay gaps are impossible to ignore. We are very grateful for these targeted salary increases in 2018 and 2019, but we must continue to address this issue. This includes login and retention bonuses and other compensation enhancements. We need to address these shortages in order to operate safely and to be able to deal with delays in admitting temporary detention orders and concerns from partners such as law enforcement. “

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