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Rosalynn Carter takes a fresh look at human resources

November 15, 2015
by Ron Manderscheid, PhD
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When the mornings bring a crystal clear chill and the leaves beckon with beautiful brilliance, everyone looks forward to Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s Annual Symposium on Mental Health Policy. This fall, Mrs. Carter hosted one of the best in her long series. The 31st Symposium set a new standard of excellence.

The 2015 Annual Symposium was held at the Carter Center on November 12 and 13. The theme focused on a growing concern that affects us all: “Help Wanted: Reshaping the Behavioral Health Workforce.”

Leading the roster of outstanding speakers was Dean Gail Stuart from the School of Nursing, Medical University of South Carolina, who identified both concerns and emerging possibilities around our behavioral health workforce. How should we advance this agenda? The dean advocated strategies for evolution, transformation, and even revolution. These themes were revisited throughout the two-day symposium.

The warm and friendly conversation so characteristic of the Carter Center then took a deep dive into panels on workforce policy, clinical practice in the integrated care era, and innovation in education and training. These panels were punctuated by mini-plenary sessions on topics ranging from population health to the faith-based workforce. Peer support services were a recurrent emphasis. Obviously, this was a very rich offering indeed.

Chronic workforce issues

Many of us came to this 31st symposium with much trepidation about the future of the behavioral health workforce. After all, this is a chronic problem that we have been facing for decades. However, I think that I can speak for most participants when I say that we left with a great deal of optimism about the future.

Many groups can contribute to our future workforce: peers, nurses, primary care providers, behavioral health providers left behind by the advances of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), faith-based clergy, staff of federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), and even baby boomers who are now retiring, but who likely will want to return as mentors or as providers in a part-time or volunteer capacity.

Just as exciting, new solutions are emerging. Information technology is on the verge of visit-less care provided entirely on a virtual basis. Health literacy and activation are advancing rapidly to foster much more self-management and self-care. Population and public health are evolving quickly to make possible more community-based interventions upstream from clinical care. Each of these developments offers us many new possibilities.

Thus, much can be done directly by us at the local level to address human resource concerns. We should do that. Yet, we also need national leadership and investment by SAMHSA, HRSA, CDC, and other national entities. The new HRSA Center on the Behavioral Health Workforce is a shining example of this leadership.

David Satcher, MD, former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health and U.S. Surgeon General, perhaps said it best near the end of the symposium. He cautioned that it will take time for parity to be implemented and for the ACA to insure more Americans and stand-up new programs. We must not become too impatient.

One, two, three cheers for Mrs. Carter, Thom Bornemann, director of the Carter Center Mental Health Program, and John Bartlett and Lei Ellingson, staff from the program, for an outstanding 31st Annual Symposium.

We already are looking forward to the 32nd.


Ron Manderscheid

Exec. Dir., NACBHDD and NARMH

Ron Manderscheid



Ron Manderscheid, Ph.D., serves as the Executive Director of the National Association of County...

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