Burrell Behavioral Health, the main provider of mental and behavioral health care in the Ozarks, has a new President and CEO. Dr. C.J. Davis has taken the helm of the private, non-profit organization based in Springfield.
He said access to mental health services is the number one priority at this time.
"Organizations are struggling with the large number of people that are calling our phones, trusting in our organization and our ability to get them in, and get them in quickly," Davis said.
Related to that access is a workforce crisis in the mental health field.
"We have in the behavioral health industry a large number of open positions. And we are having difficulty filling those positions," Davis said.
According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health, many of the counties across Missouri do not employ a single full-time psychiatrist, psychologist, or behavioral analyst. The shortage of mental health workers is most acute in rural areas, as Ozarks Public Radio reported in its series "Waiting for Care" earlier this year.
Davis said the approach to addressing that need will have many prongs, beginning with making sure that Burrell is "the employer of choice," and that employees there feel valued.
"Second, we really need to get involved in our own workforce, in reaching out and developing more practicums and internships," he said.
Davis also said he intends to work with state lawmakers to secure more funding for recruitment of mental health professionals to Missouri.
"There are a lot of states, particularly in the Midwest, where their legislative bodies are dedicating large amounts of money to recruit licensed providers, including psychiatrists, to the state, paying off hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans," he said.
Click here to read more about the potential solutions for Missouri's mental health workforce crisis.
Another way to address the shortage of mental health professionals is through technology, Davis said. Burrell currently uses telehealth services, in which a local person can uses internet video to talk to a professional based elsewhere. But Davis said Burrell needs to engage telehealth on a wider level.
He also said he intends to provide significant public education on mental health.
"We have to get to a point in time when I walk into a facility of Burrell Behavioral Health that I'm not embarrassed. Or I'm not ashamed. Or if I see my neighbor in the lobby, I would have an open conversation about what's going on with me," Davis said.