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The Valley Is Short On Behavioral Health Providers – And That’s Likely To Worsen


In California, mental illness afflicts as many as 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 14 children. And yet, according to a new study, the state’s workforce of behavioral health providers could be in jeopardy.

By the year 2028, California could have 41 percent fewer psychiatrists than it needs, and 11 percent fewer other providers like psychologists and licensed clinical social workers.

The report, by the UC San Francisco Healthforce Center, shows the distribution of these providers is already uneven. In 2016, the San Joaquin Valley had half the psychiatrists per capita than the statewide average. 

"I think it’s fair to say that in the San Joaquin Valley, supplies are so low that it’s affecting people’s access," says Janet Coffman, lead author of the study and a professor of health policy at UCSF.

She says medical training opportunities are also unevenly distributed, and Latino and black providers are underrepresented - all barriers to care.

"When people with these conditions can’t get timely access to treatment, they tend to end up in the emergency department," she says, "and our emergency departments are already struggling."

The study offers many recommendations for increasing the behavioral health workforce, including expanding clinical training opportunities in underserved areas.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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