Burrell Behavioral Health plans to double the 200-person staff of Youth Bridge, a Fayetteville-based behavioral health group, within the next five years, the merged companies’ chief executive said.
“The behavioral health industry is being flooded with interest in receiving care,” Chief Executive C.J. Davis said last week.
Davis is not exaggerating, Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, said Friday. Hester is chairman of the state Senate’s Children and Youth Committee.
“If you want to know how great the need is, talk to any elementary school principal,” the senator said.
Burrell is a nonprofit corporation based in Springfield, Mo. The company announced Tuesday that it has completed a merger with Youth Bridge. Burrell was founded in 1977 and operates in 17 Missouri counties. Youth Bridge was established in 1963 in Winslow and operates in Baxter, Benton, Boone, Carroll, Marion, Madison, Newton and Washington counties.
Youth Bridge has wide experience providing counseling and other services in schools, an area where Burrell is expanding rapidly, statements from both companies have said. Youth Bridge is primarily, though not exclusively, focused on youths while Burrell has more experience in adult services.
Youth Bridge and Burrell together serve about 45,000 clients, according to the companies’ statement.
Three main factors drive the expected doubling of Youth Bridge staff, Davis said Tuesday at Youth Bridge headquarters.
First, there is growing demand for youth counseling within the existing population. People are more willing to seek out such services than in the past. “People no longer think, ‘Something’s wrong. I must be a bad parent,'” Davis said. “They realize there are things they can do, experts in what can be done.”
There is wider public acceptance in recent years that seeking help early for problems like depression and unacceptable behavior can avoid more serious problems later on, he said. Early action can also lessen or eliminate the need for prescription drugs, he said.
“Medication is a very small part of what we do,” Davis said.
The second factor in increased demand is the growth of Northwest Arkansas, the fastest growing region of the state according to census figures and one of the fastest growing in the country.
The third growth factor involves rural and small-town communities across northern Arkansas, Davis said. Those areas are not growing nearly as quickly as Northwest Arkansas but, like rural areas across the United States, those regions have long been under-served for this kind of health care, he said.
“Our service areas are in close proximity to each other and that gives us an opportunity to blur state lines,” Davis said. Much of northern Arkansas’ population will now have access to Burrell locations in southern Missouri and Missouri clients in rural regions of that part of the state will now have easier, shorter access to Youth Bridge facilities in Arkansas, he said.
Hester mentioned other factors in the need for more behavioral health providers that the Legislature has seen: drug use by parents and failure of traditional families.
“I think we have an exploding need for the kind of services Youth Bridge offers because society’s changing,” Hester said.
This article originally appeared in an article in Arkansas Democrat Gazette.