Behavioral health workforce investment would create more than 500 jobs, generate $1.8 billion in taxpayer benefits

February 28, 2024

A new analysis by Healthy Minds Policy Initiative and the Tulsa Regional Chamber found that a strategic investment in Oklahoma’s behavioral health workforce would contribute at least 539 jobs and $96.5 million to Oklahoma’s economy by 2037.

New behavioral health providers added to the workforce would also create $1.8 billion in taxpayer benefits in the decades to come by providing evidence-based mental health treatment to over 1 million more Oklahomans — a result of increasing individuals’ earning potential and of reduced spending on treatment in costlier settings like hospitals and jails.

These figures represent the benefit of funding hundreds of new behavioral health professionals through a proposed $36.8 million funding package to expand training pathways and offer incentives for critically needed providers.  

Read the analysis in full

Lawmakers will consider funding the package through a state appropriation during the 2024 legislative session. Healthy Minds presented this opportunity for legislators in November during an interim study hosted by Sens. Jessica Garvin and Julia Kirt and Reps. Jeff Boatman and Melissa Provenzano, co-chairs of the Oklahoma Legislative Mental Health Caucus.

“We have an opportunity to make an impact on the mental health of generations of Oklahomans this legislative session,” said Rep. Boatman. “Oklahoma could reap major health and economic benefits by addressing the serious shortages of mental health providers that keep people from getting the treatment they need.”

The analysis estimates that the proposed investment in Oklahoma’s behavioral health workforce would generate $12.1 million in tax revenue, including $7.1 million that could be directly attributed to the behavioral health workforce funding package.

Together over the course of their careers, the professionals funded by these initiatives would allow more than 1.4 million more Oklahomans to access mental health treatment. Over a 30-year period, this would mean about 49,000 more Oklahomans a year receiving evidence-based behavioral health treatment who would otherwise have gone without it.

“Oklahoma needs to be able to attract a strong behavioral health workforce to meet our residents’ needs, and these workforce incentives will draw more providers to study and practice in Oklahoma,” said Sen. Garvin. “Funding new training pathways and growing the workforce will help more Oklahomans access care, particularly in parts of the state with an insufficient supply of much-needed professionals.”

Healthy Minds’ recent workforce research highlighted serious shortages of nearly all types of behavioral health professionals in Oklahoma. This mismatch in supply and demand is most acute for professionals with some of the highest levels of training — psychiatrists, psychologists, and advanced practice nurses.  

The research also uncovered shortcomings in Oklahoma’s pipelines to train and educate new behavioral health professionals. The state lacks enough psychiatry residencies and internships for psychologists-in-training to support Oklahoma residents’ growing mental health needs.

To address these shortcomings, the appropriations proposal includes funding for additional residency and internship slots for psychiatrists and psychologists, scholarships for social workers and advanced practice psychiatric nurses, loan repayments for 250 professionals, and grants to fuel private-sector innovation that can attract, grow, and retain Oklahoma’s workforce.

“Oklahoma has made crucial progress in past legislative sessions to make sure more Oklahomans can access treatment,” said Healthy Minds Executive Director Zack Stoycoff. “Now, lawmakers have a chance to ensure the state has the workforce to support Oklahomans’ mental health needs. Funding these behavioral health workforce initiatives will pay dividends in the decades to come.”