Behavioral health hospitals play a crucial role in providing specialized care for individuals with mental health disorders. However, these hospitals are facing significant challenges, particularly in terms of staffing psychiatric care professionals. The shortage of qualified psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners has led to financial strains and, in some cases, the closure of behavioral health hospitals. A recent article in Behavioral Health Business spells out the challenges in stark terms, “Psychiatric hospitals are buckling under decades of financial pressure”. To combat this crisis and ensure their viability, these hospitals can turn to virtual behavioral health. This transformative approach not only provides consistent access to psychiatric clinicians but also creates operational efficiencies that can optimize their average daily census (ADC), enabling them to grow and expand to meet the increasing needs of their communities.
Staffing Challenges Faced by Behavioral Health Hospitals:
The shortage of qualified psychiatric care providers, such as Psychiatrists and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs), poses a significant obstacle for behavioral health hospitals. These hospitals require a team of highly skilled professionals to deliver quality psychiatric care to their patients. However, recruitment and retention of such professionals have become increasingly difficult, leading to staffing shortages and an inability to meet the growing demand for services.
Financial Strains and Closure of Behavioral Health Hospitals:
The challenges associated with staffing directly impact the financial viability of behavioral health hospitals. When these hospitals struggle to recruit and retain qualified professionals, it can lead to increased costs associated with temporary staffing or locum tenens arrangements. Additionally, the inability to maintain consistent psychiatric care providers jeopardizes the continuity and quality of care provided to patients. This also puts a strain on other staff members and clinicians who must struggle to maintain continuity of care or must manage difficult patients without the proper behavioral health training. As a result, some behavioral health hospitals are forced to close their doors, leaving communities without essential mental health services.
Not only does this deprive the community where the hospital is located of this needed care, it often results in hundreds of lost jobs. The ramifications of these failures cut deep, and often happen where patients then have nowhere else to go for mental health care. From the same BHB article the CEO of a Cascade Behavioral Health Hospital which was being forced to close put it like this, “We were a solution to a community that needed access to acute behavioral health care. Through COVID and other complexities, Cascade remained steadfast in our commitment to our patients and community. However, the breadth of challenges created a situation where the long-term viability of the hospital was no longer sustainable.” When a BH Hospital closes the whole community suffers.
Virtual Behavioral Health: A Promising Solution
Virtual behavioral health, also known as telepsychiatry or psychiatric telemedicine, offers a promising solution to the staffing and quality challenges faced by behavioral health hospitals. By leveraging technology, telepsychiatry enables hospitals to access consistent psychiatric care from professionals, regardless of geographical constraints. Psychiatrists and PMHNPs can provide their expertise remotely, bridging the gap between supply and demand.
Benefits of Telepsychiatry for Behavioral Health Hospitals:
- Consistent Access to Psychiatric Clinicians: Telepsychiatry provides a reliable and consistent supply of psychiatric care providers, ensuring that patients receive the necessary treatment without disruption. Additionally, the consistency of virtual providers enables synergy with the care team for better holistic care management of the patients. This improves patient outcomes and overall satisfaction.
- Efficient Utilization of Resources: Virtual behavioral health enables behavioral health hospitals to optimize their census by efficiently allocating their psychiatric care providers. By leveraging telepsychiatry, hospitals can schedule appointments more effectively, reduce wait times, and enhance the overall operational flow.
- Expanded Reach and Community Impact: Telepsychiatry eliminates geographical barriers, allowing behavioral health hospitals to extend their services beyond their physical locations. Through optimized care models and higher patient throughput, behavioral health hospitals can expand their geographical reach and receive admissions from EDs across a wide range of localities. This expansion of reach increases access to mental health care for individuals in underserved areas and ensures that communities receive the support they need.
- Improved Financial Viability: By reducing staffing challenges and operational inefficiencies, telepsychiatry helps behavioral health hospitals enhance their financial stability. The cost-effectiveness of telepsychiatry, combined with improved patient engagement and increased census, creates a sustainable model for growth and expansion.
- Collaborative Care and Integrated Services: Telepsychiatry facilitates seamless collaboration among multidisciplinary teams, including primary care providers, therapists, and case managers. This integrated approach enhances the continuity of care and promotes a holistic treatment experience for patients.
- Add Outpatient Services: With a virtual behavioral health model, hospitals can easily add staff to deploy an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) or Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). Virtual care with a consistent provider on a regular basis for IOP/PHP participants is a terrific service for a community and can be financially viable for the hospital through a telemedicine model of care.
The challenges faced by behavioral health hospitals regarding staffing and financial viability require innovative solutions. Telepsychiatry provides consistent access to psychiatric care professionals and creates operational efficiencies, offering a transformative solution for hospitals. By embracing virtual behavioral health, hospitals can optimize their census, improve patient outcomes, expand their reach, and ensure the continuity of high-quality care. Ultimately, telepsychiatry empowers behavioral health hospitals to remain open, grow, and meet the increasing needs of their communities, filling a crucial gap in mental health services.