Lessons from Summit BHC, Geode: How Behavioral Health Providers Can Build a Culture That Retains Staff

Behavioral health staffing pressures have eased since the crisis-inducing levels of the COVID-19 pandemic toward a new normal.

That new normal is defined by heightened challenges compared to the pre-pandemic era. It is also defined by market and financial constraints, forcing the totality of the behavioral health industry to address the importance and power of company culture. The acute phase of the pandemic led to an arms race over compensation, including still-elevating wages and large sign-on bonuses. This led to disastrous outcomes for some behavioral health providers. 

“It’s a little easier for us to find our nurses now, and our agency spend has decreased over the last 12 to 18 months,” Kim Brady, chief human resources officer for Franklin, Tennessee-based Summit BHC, said on a webinar during the inaugural BHB Staffing Summit. “More importantly, in the markets where we do have agency spend, we’re seeing those rates come down significantly from what we were paying during the pandemic. So, I do feel like we’re seeing some stabilization.”


(You can listen to a replay of the webinar at this link.)

Summit BHC operates 37 freestanding facilities in 20 states across the country that focus on psychiatric and addiction treatment services. The company, founded in 2013, hires about 3,000 employees of all types and classifications in a year, Brady said. This ranges from groundskeepers to clinicians to administrative and executive staff.

The acute phases of the pandemic significantly impacted the company because competition for the same staff from the hospital sector went through the roof. Plus, the costs that staffing agencies levied on Summit and other organizations ballooned as competition for direct care staff reached a fever pitch.


“We are very driven by staff ratios for our services,” Brady said. “We need to make sure that we have the proper number of staff on a unit on any given day.”

Those staffing ratios are often immutable. State laws, licensing authorities, and educational requirements frequently dictate those levels.

Still, for Summit BHC, a more intensive and facility-based company, the new normal still feels a way off despite the stabilization, Brady said. While going back to pre-pandemic levels of agency spending or competition for staff seems unlikely, arriving at a place where new post-pandemic expectations of employees will begin to come to the fore.

Gaurav Bhattacharyya, CEO of the Oak Brook, Illinois-based outpatient mental health provider Geode Health, said during the webinar the staffing realm seems less “transactional” now than it did coming out of the acute phase of the pandemic.

“Now what we’re seeing a little bit more is providers, not necessarily looking for their forever home, but certainly somewhere where they want to get some roots and build camaraderie and be part of a culture versus just filling an hourly timecard,” Bhattacharyya said.

Bhattacharyya and Brady identified a handful of concepts that lead to improved retention at their respective organizations. At the core of many is consistent communication generally, clear communication of standards specifically and providing the means of achieving those standards. This includes elevating their performance through training and inspiring performance by celebrating employees’ accomplishments.

“You reward people with compensation and bonuses,” Bhattacharyya said. “And you honor people when they keep to core values.”

Brady highlighted that making connections between the mission of an organization, its standards and what he daily life and other expectations will be during the hiring process is also key. Many clinicians want to make a difference in people’s lives already, she said. Laying out a plan to do that from the start, and then delivering on the plan, is key to building a retention culture.

“I think if they understand that, then that sets them up for success as they come into their role,” Brady said.

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