The strategies UHS' president of behavioral health uses to tackle workforce shortage

Behavioral health is projected to be one of the fastest-growing areas in healthcare, by market value, over the next few years. Those projections may fall short, however, if issues like workforce shortages aren't addressed.

Matt Peterson, president of the behavioral health division at King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services and a brigadier general in the Air National Guard, spoke with Becker's about how his team is working to mitigate the provider deficit in behavioral health.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Talent shortages are one of the biggest limiting factors for behavioral health's growth trajectory. What are you doing to tackle that?

Matt Peterson: We have been very focused on retention and engagement. Looking at the data in our internal employee surveys, our staff indicate they appreciate many new things we put in place to address the headwinds of retention, including career ladders and progression, career development, engagement during the workday, and ongoing recruitment and retention strategies. We facilitated more teamwork and collaboration, established new "recharge rooms" at many of our behavioral health facilities for staff rejuvenation, addressed burnout, expanded mentorship, launched a new employee assistance program, and best of all, increased employee engagement.

Q: How significant is Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman's very public and ongoing mental health treatment?

MP: Experiences and journeys like Senator Fetterman’s are certainly significant – and their willingness to publicly share information is supportive to others seeking help. While we very much respect the privacy of all individuals, when we see high profile people seek behavioral healthcare in such an open and transparent way, it lessens stigma and thereby reduces barriers to care. Individuals in the public eye being forthright about their need for services will most definitely encourage others to seek help when needed. Behavioral Health is in most cases not a follow-up to somatic care; rather, it is the primary condition for up to one in five adult Americans at any given time. Behavioral Health therefore needs to be acknowledged, treated and supported in an open and honest manner. When it is, individuals live better lives. 

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