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GAO Report on Recruiting and Retaining Behavioral Health Workers

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report explores longstanding concerns about the availability of qualified behavioral health providers in the United States.

Based on reviews of available research and 13 stakeholder interviews representing research institutions and behavioral health associations, GAO identified three key categories of barriers that pose challenges to recruiting and retaining behavioral health providers:

Financial barriers include low reimbursement rates and compensation for behavioral health services. Additionally, high student loan debt associated with behavioral health professions discourages students from lower-income backgrounds. 

Educational barriers include a lack of training for providers to serve diverse populations effectively. Many programs to recruit diverse behavioral health providers only benefit individuals already studying behavioral health field, and students from underrepresented backgrounds often encounter barriers to pursuing graduate education in the field due to prejudice and microaggressions. 

Workplace barriers include high workloads for behavioral health providers, which can lead to burnout and departure from the field. Rural practice settings bring additional challenges, including a shortage of licensed supervisors and funded internship positions, professional isolation, resource limitations, and long travel distances.

Additionally, GAO identified incentives that could help mitigate the aforementioned barriers, including:

  • student loan repayment programs;
  • targeted financial support, such as fellowship and scholarship programs for racial and ethnic minority students;
  • creating a career pathway through mentorship programs, student outreach, and career education; and
  • increasing telehealth use for patients in rural or remote areas.

Contact Senior Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at or 202.585.0127 with questions.


About the Author

Faridat Animashaun is a policy associate at America's Essential Hospitals.

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