Employee recruitment and retention continues to be a problem at the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Valerie Huhn, the department’s director, told a panel of state lawmakers that workforce is the most significant barrier to the department performing the services that they need to perform.

“But we are changing a lot of how of how, we can’t recruit the way we used to recruit,” she said. “We can’t retain employees by not doing anything. It takes a lot more on the employer’s side now than we’re used to having to do to be competitive in the market in order to get employees to walk into our door and keep employees.”

The solutions she’s looking into include expanding remote support options and creating crisis capacity to offset staffing shortages in the interim.

“We do not ask people, both on the community provider’s side and the state operated side to do easy jobs,” said Huhn. “These are very, very difficult jobs. Sometimes it can be very lonely and isolating jobs. It takes a lot – make sure you’ve got the right person for the job. You want to make sure you’re recruiting the right type of people and then you definitely want to make sure when you get them in the door, and you get them trained that you can retain those folks.”

One solution that her department recently implemented was forming an electronic health records system.

“That’s why it’s so important to me and that’s why I’ll keep talking about it till I’m blue in the face,” she said. “Our supply workforce is not going to get better. If you know anything about economics, when the supply is not there, you have to find alternatives, and that’s what we’re doing with technology.”

She told the committee that access to workforce is the biggest reason she has been unable to spend last year’s state funding.

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