Hopebridge Inc. hopes to win over staffers and potential employees with its new travel BCBA role.
The essence of the Indianapolis-based autism therapy provider’s pitch goes something like this: help kids, travel the country, work in areas of greatest need, receive additional training — and get paid to do all that.
Hopebridge and other autism therapy providers are grappling with severe workforce challenges.
The travel BCBA — board certified behavior analyst — is clinically identical to a traditional BCBA. However, it comes with additional leadership training from the company and the opportunity to travel to a center within Hopebridge’s 12-state footprint. It operates 138 locations, according to its website.
Professionals in the role will work a 6-month stint in a center where the need is greatest.
“The ideal candidate is somebody who loves the science of ABA, loves maintaining their caseload, but also likes adventure and some flexibility and wants to see different parts of the United States that still serve the mission,” Hopebridge Chief Clinical Officer Jana Sarno told Behavioral Health Business.
Founded in 2004 in Kokomo, Indiana, the company is also focused on expanding “360 care services” in its centers early in the tenure of its new CEO, David McIntosh.
At Hopebridge, children engage in applied behavior analysis (ABA) and other services for 18 to 24 months. Travel BCBAs may be redeployed or reassigned to the same locations to continue care.
The 6-month timeframe is inspired by the typical health plan authorization timeframe for care, Sarno said, adding it’s a natural timeframe to reassess where and how employees are working.
Travel BCBAs are supplements to a center’s permanent BCBAs and registered behavioral technicians (RBTs); they are not meant to replace staff. But they would be expected to be leaders in their centers.
BCBAs assess and develop treatment plans for children with autism and other health conditions. BCBAs work directly with children. However, RBTs frequently carry out treatment plans.
The program was inspired by programs meant to bring skilled professionals to areas of significant need, such as Teach for America and Doctors Beyond Border, Hopebridge’s McIntosh said in a news release.
“We thought, why can’t we offer the same exciting opportunity for clinicians in behavioral health?” McIntosh said. “The introduction of the travel BCBA role represents our commitment to extending our reach and impact, and we hope that passionate BCBAs will be intrigued by the adventure.”
Hopebridge piloted the program with one BCBA, Alycia Link. In a blog about her experience, Link said she felt she could make the greatest impact in the world by traveling.
“I want to make an impact on the deepest level, which often means being sent to newer centers that don’t yet have BCBAs or supporting those who are just starting out in order to help create a steady base for our families,” Link said.
Hopebridge will hire travel BCBAs on a scale of “10 or 20” in the coming months.
“We know there’s a need out there and want to meet that need in the best possible way,” Sarno said.
The autism therapy segment is struggling with a crushing demand for services and a shortage of providers to meet that demand. One study finds that 28% of U.S. counties do not have any practicing RBTs or BCBAs.
The workforce challenges have had devastating real-world impacts. Most recently, Doylesville, Pennsylvania-based Invo Healthcare will shutter its center and home autism therapy services and focus on its school-based behavioral health business.
While different in vital ways, the travel BCBAs somewhat parallel the rise of travel and temporary work in the physical health care segment.
The nursing shortage was exacerbated by the pandemic. As a result of the increased demand for nurses, travel nurse pay doubled in 2020 and 2021. Some estimates suggest the number of travel nurses in the U.S. has doubled.