ALABAMA (WHNT) – Mental health care professionals are getting more and more concerned as the state of Alabama faces its most critical community health care provider shortage to date. 

According to a recent study by Mental Health America, vacant positions for mental health care providers have increased by more than 50 percent since 2020. That same data shows the state of Alabama ranks next to last for access to and state-funded mental health care.  

Holly Caraway McCorkle, Director of the Alabama Council for Behavioral Healthcare told News 19 that their important work is now in jeopardy. 

“This problem did not start recently. This is a decades-long problem of chronically underfunding the system,” said McCorkle.  

The Alabama Council for Behavioral Health Care serves 67 counties of community health professionals and provides the services needed for mental health, addiction and intellectual and developmental disabilities.  

McCorkle says if the state does step up to help in the areas of pay and retention of mental health professionals, then direct care for those who need it will be lost. Right now, the average starting pay is $11 an hour. 

“You can’t hire someone for eleven dollars an hour and not someone who is a quality workforce,” McCorkle explained. “These funds — and I know the legislature is looking to help fund this request — but these funds would absolutely go to the pay for community health workers.” 

McCorkle is asking state lawmakers to present to the legislature during the current session to ask for $30.6 million from the state’s budget that will cover the pay for new hires. 

However, McCorkle says the $30.6 million is only part of the solution. 

“I wish we treated mental health care like we treated physical health care. If someone has high blood pressure, they are able to get into a doctor and get treated,” McCorkle explained. “People that are suffering with a mental illness or an addiction deserve the same access to health care.”