Springfield, MO

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C.J. Davis sees demand for mental health care – and the workforce to meet it – only increasing.
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C.J. Davis sees demand for mental health care – and the workforce to meet it – only increasing.

Health Care Outlook: C.J. Davis

President and CEO, Burrell Behavioral Health

Posted online

2022 Projection: We will continue to see pretty significant growth over the coming year or two. We will be hiring at a faster clip and may see record numbers of people accessing mental health services.

Since joining Burrell in 2017, you’ve overseen tremendous growth, from a budget of $85 million to $150 million, and massive expansion of footprint. You recently announced a merger with Comprehensive Mental Health Services and a possible partnership with Preferred Family Healthcare. What is driving these expansions?
It’s about economies of scale, but more importantly, smaller centers really struggle with recruitment. They can’t really grow and serve more because they can’t find the providers. In order to win the arms race in recruiting, we have to continue to scale up to meet demand regionally. In order to recruit, we have to be really attractive with flexibility. In an organization like ours, providers can work in rural or urban spaces. If you’re from Kansas City and want to work in Kansas City, great. If you’re in St. Louis and want to work from home, you can virtually drop in to any other community we serve. Attracting more talent is important because we’ve seen a 25% to 35% increase in demand over the past few years. We know those numbers will continue to rise over the next three to five years. That’s what you normally see post-pandemic.

More locally, Burrell Health opened the 24-hour Behavioral Crisis Center. What results have you seen from that?
We’ve exceeded our expectations. We’ve treated more than 2,000 people over the last 18 months with $4 million to $5 million in cost savings. The average wait time for a police officer dropping someone off at our center is 15 minutes. It was four to six hours before. About 45% of the people who come into that service line are self-referred, just going there on their own. We suspect that a lot of people driving to that door of care normally would have been to the ER and the police don’t even have to act on it. We are getting ready to stand another up in the next few months in Columbia and with our merger in Kansas City, we’ve already started the construction of one there. We’re becoming the leading innovator in this.

By all accounts, COVID-19 has driven demand for mental health services. How are mental health providers maneuvering to meet the need?
We’ve had to expand hours for clinics and adjust some models for how we deliver care. The same business practices don’t work as well as they did pre-pandemic. We’ve had to transition to the virtual world. In the state of Missouri, we’ve had to provide some care telephonically. Previously, it was about 10% virtual. During the pandemic, 90%.

Where are we with addressing mental health needs as a nation?
We are light-years ahead of where we were five years ago. Funding has been critical for 10 years. We had to fight, fight, fight and that has changed in the last five years. I think it’s all trending in the right direction in terms of how we get our communities to really embrace and support people.

What are the greatest challenges to significantly addressing mental health?
It’s still the stigma. We have people who won’t engage in care because they have fears of being weak or being judged. No. 2, our state governors and leaders, are they supporting through legislation and funding that people have access to care? No. 3, how is it we are able to recruit and retain talent? There will soon be announced a partnership with Missouri State University to add licensed psychologists to the region.


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