Where the Mental Health Clinician Shortage Is at Its Worst

Approximately 130 million Americans live in 5,900 regions designated as having a mental health clinician shortage.

New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shed light on the disparity in mental health clinician shortage between states. At a national level, the United States would require about 6,600 new mental health practitioners to meet the demand in areas the federal government designates health professional shortage areas (HPSAs).

The report, which is based on data maintained by the Health Resources and Services Administration, shows that only 28% of the mental health clinician need is met across all HPSAs.

Location Providers Needed
to Meet Demand
Need Met (%)
1 District of Columbia 28 5.30%
2 Missouri 140 5.93%
3 Delaware 21 9.96%
4 Arizona 184 10.61%
5 West Virginia 90 12.74%
6 North Carolina 199 13.36%
7 Hawaii 28 14.22%
8 Connecticut 62 14.93%
9 Tennessee 247 15.31%
10 New Mexico 74 16.64%
Source: www.kff.org

New Jersey sees the highest percentage of need met at a 68.9% — 63.9 percentage point gap compared to the District of Columbia, the area with the lowest percentage of need met. New Jersey, while still facing a mental health clinician shortage, has 13X more of its need met in its HPSAs than the District of Columbia.

Very few states have a relatively higher percentage of need met among the states. Only three states have a percent of need met higher than 50%: New Jersey, 68.9%; Rhode Island, 62.9%; and Utah, 56.3%.

The data show that 26 states have lower rates of need met than the national 28%.


The national mental health clinician shortage manifests in several different instances across the behavioral health sector.

National behavioral health and acute care facility operator Universal Health Systems Inc. (NYSE: UHS) has tied its ability to manage its workforce challenges to its profitability goals.

In April, UHS said labor costs may sink its 2022 financial guidance but has not pulled said guidance. Even though the shortage has limited its ability to get people into its behavioral health facilities, it has given UHS added leverage with its lower-paying insurance partners, according to UHS’ chief financial officer.

Acadia Healthcare Co. Inc. (Nasdaq: ACHC), the largest pure-play behavioral health operator in the U.S., has tied part of its growth to joint ventures with other health care systems as a way to grow around the workforce challenge.

At the payer level, many large employers have found mental health networks provided by health plans unsatisfactory, according to Lifestance Health Group (Nasdaq: LFST) CEO Michael Lester. Also, the bulk of Medicare opt-outs come from behavioral health professionals, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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