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Virginia Beach offers hiring, retention incentives to mental and behavioral healthcare workers

Workforce leaders hope $1,000 bonuses can help fill a "desperate need" for qualified staff, especially in direct care positions

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The City of Virginia Beach is offering $1,000 one-time incentives to help behavioral and mental healthcare providers hire and retain qualified workers.

Leaders in the field said the demand for mental health services has risen during the pandemic, outpacing the number of nurses and specialists who can care for people.

That's led to significant staffing shortages.

"We need workers in as many behavioral health spaces as possible," said Kurt Hooks, CEO at Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center. "This is really critical."

Hooks said nurses, mental health technicians and specialists, and clinical service providers who are therapists are especially needed at behavioral healthcare centers across the city.

"We talked about healthcare heroes for two years now, and I know it’s become maybe a little bit of a tired term, but in reality, we want to be able to reward those individuals and say, 'This work is more important now than ever,'" he said.

Virginia Beach City Council allocated $200,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to the program, meaning up to 200 workers can receive the one-time bonuses.

The program is similar to the city’s recent hospitality and tourism industry incentive program, which workforce leaders praised.

"What we found through that [hospitality and tourism] program is that incentives like this can work," said Michael Woodhead, a consultant with the Hampton Roads Workforce Council. 

Woodhead did recognize that the one-time bonuses are limited.

"They are not a panacea; they will not solve all of our employment and employee engagement issues, but they do give us a closing tool... a way of getting people who might be on the fence to help them make a decision."

Hook said a sustainable behavioral health workforce is vital for community growth, and provides far-reaching impacts.

"Anything that can help fill the gaps, enhance access, enhance the quality and provision of care along whole spectrum of behavioral health is a win for Virginia Beach," he said.

Industry leaders said the bonuses are available if you apply at behavioral or mental healthcare providers in Virginia Beach. 

Each business may have their own qualification requirements, including time spent in the position. 

More information is available via the Hampton Roads Workforce Council website.

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