Re: “Why is it so hard to find a therapist? These barriers stop Washingtonians from getting help” [Dec. 12, Local News] and “Finding mental health care shouldn’t be this difficult” [Dec. 13, Local News]:

As chief medical officer at a community health center that provides care to thousands of underserved patients in King County, I find these recent stories are frustratingly familiar.

Despite concentrated efforts, Neighborcare Health has struggled to hire mental health providers across our clinics, homeless services and school-based health centers. That means long waitlists for adults and youth, a majority of whom rely on community health centers. Patients with Medicaid and Medicare are in a tougher position because mental health providers outside our system are at capacity or do not accept their insurance. For our patients, and disproportionately for our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) patients, paying out of pocket is not an option.

Before the pandemic, hiring was difficult. Now health care workers are experiencing burnout, many leaving the workforce altogether, increasing competition among health care organizations. This further stresses workers who are left to fill in the gaps of staffing shortages.

As our region recovers from the pandemic, it is critical for our state leaders to prioritize investments in behavioral health workforce pipelines. We know the need is there. Support for mental and emotional health should not be a luxury. Everyone deserves well-being and stability to reach their full potential.

Meena Mital, M.D., chief medical officer, Neighborcare Health, Seattle