New ATTC study examines addiction treatment workforce: Vital Signs

Submitted by: 01/04/2013 by Olivia Ryan

A lack of nationally representative data describing the specialty workforce that serves individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) has inhibited the ability of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other federal agencies to institute meaningful workforce development programs for SUD professionals. In response, SAMHSA instructed the 2007–2012 Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network to carry out a national workforce survey. The overall goal of this project, entitled Vital Signs: Taking the Pulse of the Addiction Treatment Profession, was to identify strategies to successfully prepare, recruit and retain a sufficient number of professionals able to effectively care for individuals with substance use disorders.

To do so, the ATTC Network designed a study that collected demographic information on clinical directors and direct care staff working in treatment facilities listed in the Inventory of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (ISATS). The study also identified key strategies to prepare, retain, and maintain the workforce in addition to information on the anticipated workforce development needs of the next five years.

Many of the findings of the study were similar to the existing anecdotal evidence on the workforce. Clinical directors and direct care staff in treatment facilities are primarily white females. The workforce is older, with the majority of clinical directors over the age of 50. However, new information did emerge that will help the workforce as it transitions into a more integrated healthcare delivery system.  For example, clinical directors described how working in a team environment can assist in recruitment and retention. These and other findings from the study can be found in the report, where the ATTC Network provides a unique picture of the state of the SUD treatment field. Vital Signs also taps into the considerable experience and expertise of clinical directors and thought leaders from across the country to illustrate the challenges that lay ahead for the field as well as the ways that the workforce will change to remain viable in the future.

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