Apr. 11—CONCORD — Community mental health center leaders urged the state Senate and Gov. Chris Sununu to approve Medicaid rate increases even higher than those contained in the two-year state budget the House of Representatives approved last week.
The Community Behavioral Health Association (CBHA) estimated that it needed rate hikes from 21.5% to 23% to address up to a $28 million shortfall in wages paid to their staff.
Over the past two years, the centers have added 173 positions to deal with a rising demand for mental health services.
“We have been delivering more services to more people with fewer staff,” Lamy said at a news conference Tuesday.
Medicaid is the dominant revenue source for these centers, making up 65% to 90% of their income, he said.
The CBHA reported on wages paid to its staff compared to benchmark salaries paid for these positions across the country, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nurse practitioners were the only position of seven studied that got paid more in New Hampshire than the national standard, on average $142,150 annually here or about 17% over the national average of $121,100.
By contrast, the mean salary for psychiatrists staffing the centers here in 2021 was $252,200 a year while the national average was nearly $320,000, or 21% higher.
Workforce shortage causes ‘ripple effect’
Clinical psychologists working at the centers earned an average of $53,685, 43% lower than the national standard of $94,570.
“There is a ripple effect felt throughout the system with this kind of workforce shortage,” said Maggie Pritchard, president of the association.
CBHA officials thanked the House for adding $40 million in higher Medicaid provider rates to a final compromise that got overwhelming bipartisan approval last Thursday.
The increase raised what mental health centers would have received in higher rates from about 11% to 18%.
The centers sustained heavy job losses as workers exited during the COVID-19 pandemic and they have not fully recovered, Lamy said.
Unlike much of the health care system, the mental health centers used telehealth to continue to provide care to patients throughout the pandemic, Lamy said.
“We’re very proud of that achievement and it speaks to the commitment of our staff,” he added.
Pritchard said the centers try to limit the use of outside contract staff to perform jobs because the cost is much higher and the benefits only temporary.
“We try as much as possible to grow our own staff; we feel that’s critical to our mission,” Pritchard said.
Vic Topo, president and CEO of the Center for Life Management in Derry, said all the centers have to provide a higher level of training to employees, many of whom have not been in the field for very long.
“We used to have a mix of seasoned and new employees but over time that has changed” as many mental health professionals have gone into private practice, Topo added.
The CBHA is also requesting Senate budget writers consider spending an additional $1.5 million to increase capacity for up to 60 additional beds for mental health treatment in communities across the state.