This year's National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare annual conference in Orlando in April was an exciting event. Attendance appeared healthy, discussions were lively, and exhibit hall traffic was heavy. A real enthusiasm for the services you deliver was evident, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood—and I'm convinced the beautiful Florida weather had something to do with it!
One well-respected and well-known attendee made a comment that stuck with me long after I left Orlando: There are too many “gray heads” here. She was not being ageist, for I suspect she would consider herself a “gray head.” Rather, she was referring to the lack of young talent among the attendees.
As authors have discussed numerous times in the pages of this magazine, behavioral healthcare is facing a staffing crisis on two fronts: recruiting and retaining direct-care staff, as well as finding and grooming future leaders—many of whom were probably not even born when President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Centers Act. The problem continues to grow worse as all sectors of the U.S. economy face the upcoming retirement of the baby boomers—and for healthcare that translates not only into worker shortages, but to increased demands on services.
To address the leadership issue, the field must involve younger professionals in important events, conferences, and training opportunities, such as the annual conference of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers this month in Palm Beach, Florida. That doesn't mean pushing aside the “gray heads.” It means bringing both the up-and-comers and the veterans to the table. Seasoned leaders can benefit from the fresh perspective of younger colleagues, and those with less tenure in the field have a lot to learn from the battle-hardened brass.
If your organization doesn't have any young professionals to teach and train, more aggressive recruitment efforts to diversify your workforce are clearly necessary. Organizations skewed toward one end of the age spectrum (as many of behavioral health's “aging” staffs probably are) will not have the range of opinions and views needed to survive in today's competitive environment.
I realize that many of you (all of you?) work in organizations in which funds are extremely tight, and budgeting for more than one person to attend conferences might be hard to swallow. But seriously addressing the looming leadership crisis as the baby-boom generation retires will take more than rhetoric. It will take real dollars invested in training and education.
Douglas J. Edwards, Editor-in-Chief