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Original Research

Creating a sustainable and effective mental health workforce for Gippsland, Victoria: solutions and directions for strategic planning

Submitted: 4 August 2010
Revised: 18 November 2010
Published: 24 January 2011

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Author(s) : Sutton KP, Maybery D, Moore T.

Keith SuttonDarryl MayberyTerry Moore

Citation: Sutton KP, Maybery D, Moore T.  Creating a sustainable and effective mental health workforce for Gippsland, Victoria: solutions and directions for strategic planning. Rural and Remote Health 11: 1585. (Online) 2011. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au

ABSTRACT

Introduction: The Gippsland region of Victoria, in common with other Australian rural and regional areas, is experiencing a shortage of qualified mental health professionals. Attracting mental health professionals to work in such areas is a major concern for service providers, policy-makers and rural/regional communities. Previous studies have focused on identifying factors contributing to the maldistribution of the health workforce, principally medical practitioners. Recent reviews have highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of evidence for the effectiveness of initiatives designed to address workforce shortages in underserved locations. The reported study sought the views of mental health organisation leaders from Gippsland to identify current approaches and potential solutions to the challenges of workforce recruitment, retention and training. A key goal of the study was to inform a strategic regional approach to the development of a more sustainable and effective mental health workforce.
Methods: Investigators conducted semi-structured individual interviews with 26 administrators, managers and senior clinicians from public and private sector mental health organisations throughout Gippsland. Thematic content analysis of the transcribed interviews identified current approaches and potential solutions to the recruiting, retaining and training problems in the region.
Results:  The study categorised solutions as focusing on factors external or internal to organisations. Solutions external to organisations included efforts to enhance the pool of available workers, improve intra-sectoral collaboration and cross-sectoral linkages, make funding more flexible, and to institute a contemporary curriculum and take innovative pedagogical approaches to training. Internal solutions included the need for strong leadership and quality organisational culture, flexible and adaptable approaches to meeting individual worker and community needs, promoting the organisation and local area and adopting models of care. Informants indicated that individual organisations are limited in their capacity to address recruitment, retention and training issues and highlighted the potential benefits of a regional mental health workforce recruitment, retention and training strategy.
Conclusion: This study provides a unique insight into the creative approaches adopted by managers in Gippsland to recruit and retain mental health workers. It brings a new perspective to the literature due to the reflections of managers, grounded as they are in day-to-day work.

Keywords: rural mental health workforce, management, leadership, organisational structure, organisational culture.

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