6 Ways to Identify a Great Behavioral Health Agency

There are a number of agencies who do good in their respective communities, but only a few agencies who qualify as “great”. These agencies do more for their employees and participants than just meeting the minimum standards set forth by all kinds of government agencies or accrediting bodies (such as OSHA, CACREP, CARF, etc). Below are six ways to identify the great agencies that go above and beyond these minimum standards.

  1. They protect employees during national/regional crises 

Whether through natural disasters or other crises, the agency puts the safety and well being of the employees and clients above profit. Ask at your next agency interview (or ask some employees that work there currently for a hopefully candid response) how did the agency ensure employee and client welfare during Katrina? 9/11? COVID-19? A great agency will offer benefits such as additional sick leave, child care options, increased supervision frequency, or other forms of support during national or regional crises. Our agency even offered hazard pay during the COVID-19 crisis to full time employees.

  1. The supervisors and staff come from diverse backgrounds 

A great agency values diversity and multicultural competency. An easy way to spot this agency is to note who they hire. Is it all one demographic? Are people of differing multicultural backgrounds hired for all levels and positions at the agency? Not only should a great agency hire and promote mental health specialists of differing intersections among race, gender, sexuality, economic status, etc, but they should also try to hire mental health specialists from differing educational backgrounds such as counselors, social workers, psychologists, etc, because each profession brings its own value to the agency. 

  1. They provide thorough training 

CARF (the non-profit accrediting body for MHRs/behavioral health agencies) requires each employee to be trained in the following areas: health and safety practices, identification of unsafe environmental factors, emergency procedures, evacuation procedures, identification of critical incidents, reporting of critical incidents, medication management, reducing physical risks, and workplace violence.  Your agency should provide some sort of training on these topics if they are accredited to even practice by CARF! However, a great agency goes above and beyond and understands that proper training is necessary to ensure your safety and the participants’ safety. You should be given the opportunity to shadow a coworker or preferably several to understand the nature of home-based work. You should also receive extensive training in paperwork and billing requirements. How can you be a great employee if you don’t even know the expectations?

  1. They pay you a fair salary and benefits

A good agency pays you a fair reimbursement rate or a great salary. Hammond and Czyszczon suggested that untrained para-professionals provide a great amount of all home-based mental health services. Even if you are a para-professional, but especially if you are a trained professional, you should be paid the fair market rate as other professionals billing for the same services in your area. A great way to have an idea of your worth is to either compare your reimbursement rates to nearby agencies or find each individual insurance provider’s reimbursement rate for your specialized behavioral health service. I’ve linked Louisiana Healthcare Connections’ behavioral health fee schedule from 2018 as an example. We all know that money isn’t everything, but I think you can be sure if an agency is already taking advantage of employees, they could be taking advantage of clients down the line.

  1. The supervisors have all provided some sort of home-based services 

You’d be amazed at the number of individuals who supervise in these settings who do not come from agency backgrounds or who have never provided services in a client’s home (and we won’t even discuss some non-clinical supervisors who don’t have degrees). CACREP (accrediting body for master’s/doctoral degrees in counseling) has the following requirements for site supervisors for masters-level practicum/internship students: your agency supervisor should have the minimum of a master’s degree, preferably in counseling or related profession, relevant certifications or licenses, minimum two years of professional experience in an area where you will be practicing, knowledge of the student’s program’s expectations, and relevant training in supervision.  I would argue that if you are searching for a position with a behavioral health agency, I would suggest that you look only for a position where your direct supervisor has a masters in a “helping field” (social work, counseling, psychology, etc) AND the accompanying full license (LPC, LCSW, etc). Most importantly, they really need to have done the work and understand what’s involved in home-based therapy. Don’t be afraid to ask at your interview for your supervisor’s credentials and field experience because there is nothing worse than reporting to a supervisor who has no idea about how theory is applied in the field.

  1. The owner/CEO has a background in mental health/social services 

Medicaid expansion has made agency ownership a pretty lucrative business. Maybe that explains why so many individuals with business backgrounds go on to manage these behavioral health agencies? Whatever the reason, owners of ethical, profitable agencies have the same credentials (or higher) as suggested for supervisors from “helping backgrounds”. They understand how managed care organizations work and understand what insurance companies look for during clinical reviews. They understand the nuances of mental healthcare and how systems in their particular community work to best assist participants and employees. 

Are there any other “green flags” that you can think of to look for in a behavioral health or mental health agency? Please share below!

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