A bold vision to address the behavioral health workforce shortage

Nathan Fletcher Speaking at Behavioral Health Workforce Symposium

“To create a robust continuum of care that offers a better way for patients to receive treatment, we need the right type of workers, and right now the behavioral system region wide is woefully understaffed. With the data in this report and the recommendations it outlines, our region now has a roadmap to scale-up and diversify the workforce. To get it done, we need the support of the private sector, nonprofits and government. I am looking forward to working with other regional leaders to build a new pipeline for careers in behavioral health.”

Nathan Fletcher, Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors

In 2021 Nathan Fletcher, Chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, called for action to address our behavioral health worker shortage.  

The San Diego Workforce Partnership met this call, assembling a steering committee of local leaders, analyzing labor market information, conducting focus groups, and surveying 1,600 behavioral health workers about their wages, job conditions, job satisfaction and more. Focus group members included community health workers, mental health and substance abuse social workers, psychiatric aides and more.

The most urgent finding: By 2027 the region will need to recruit 18,500 behavioral health professionals to the field—more than the entire current workforce of 17,000.


  • County of San Diego invested $15M for the Renewable Learning Fund
  • Awarded $5M from Assemblymember Brian Maienschein to build career pathways for peer support specialists
  • Awarded $1.15M from the CA Workforce Development Board to create equitable social work pathways at community colleges
  • On October 11, 2022, Chair Fletcher recommended creation of Behavioral Health Impact Fund to ensure funds are quickly deployed
  • On October 11, 2022, Chair Fletcher and Supervisor Lawson-Remer directed the County to advance the comprehensive strategy, including advancing the five key recommendations within the report

Report and Recommendations

We developed recommendations to address the underlying issues and increase retention and hiring of this critical workforce. Recommendations include paying workers more, helping them afford training, reducing the documentation burden, establishing regional training centers of excellence and more.

The Union Tribune described the report as “making exquisitely specific recommendations,” and we are already working with Chair Fletcher and Behavioral Health Services to develop a strategy for implementing these recommendations.

Behavioral Health Workforce Symposium 

We shared our findings and recommendations at the Behavioral Health Workforce Symposium. There were also panels and discussions led by community stakeholders from the County, educational institutions and employers. You can watch the full symposium now 

This groundbreaking report is a bold call to action to address this critical need.

“Some of what this report says might seem shocking. The sheer size of the necessary growth in workforce sets a massively ambitious target. But we have to be ambitious if we want behavioral health to be what it should be: on at least equal footing with the rest of healthcare. This report is an anchor for work that will transform behavioral health in San Diego County.”

Luke Bergmann, Director of County Behavioral Health Services

Caring Counselor Listening To Female Patient

How to Take Action 

To implement the report’s recommendations and recruit and retain more behavioral health workers, sectors across our region need to partner together.

To support the work or to learn more:

  • If you’re interested in funding a program or initiative, contact VP of Sector Initiatives Parina Parikh at parinaparikh@workforce.org.
  • If you’re interested in providing training or education, contact Director of Workforce Development Karen Connolly at karenconnolly@workforce.org.
  • For speaker or media requests, contact Marketing and Communications Specialist Ronald Epps at RonaldEpps@workforce.org
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