University of South Florida


College of Behavioral and Community Sciences buildin

USF to lead statewide initiative to address shortage of mental health professionals

By Tina Meketa, University Communications and Marketing

USF’s long-time commitment to address the critical need for mental health professionals is being recognized by the state of Florida, which selected the university as home of the Florida Center for Behavioral Health Workforce.

“We are facing a crisis with increasing shortages of behavioral health care professionals such as mental health counselors and social workers. With the establishment of the center, we will be able to address this urgent need and continue our important work in this area. I appreciate that the state has entrusted us with increasing access to behavioral health care for those who need it.” – Julie Serovich, dean of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences

USF was recently awarded $5 million in recurring funds to create the center to enhance recruitment and retention efforts and expand pathways to behavioral health professions. Based in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, the Florida Center for Behavioral Health Workforce joins the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at USF – which serves as the conduit between academic researchers, community organizations and government agencies – in strengthening mental health services in Florida through research, training and education.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 1 in 4 U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. Nationally, more than half the population lives in an area with a shortage of mental health professionals; the situation is worse in Florida. The agency attributes the shortage to a number of factors, such as lack of uniformity across mental health-related professions, reimbursement challenges and provider burnout.

The creation of the Florida Center for Behavioral Health Workforce and the $5 million in recurring state funds provided to operate it, were components of Senate Bill 330, sponsored by Sen. Jim Boyd and Rep. Sam Garrison, which was one of the bills included in the Live Healthy legislation package signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March. Senate Bill 330 also creates a new category of teaching hospitals dedicated to advancing behavioral health care. In partnership with USF, Tampa General Hospital was selected to be one of four hospitals throughout the state to receive the “behavioral health teaching hospital” designation.

Sen. Jim Boyd

Sen. Jim Boyd

“Nationally, we’re facing a growing mental health crisis. Florida is taking a proactive approach to strengthen our behavioral health care system and grow our health care workforce to support the needs of Floridians,” Boyd said. “Senate Bill 330 is an integral part of the solution. It creates the Center for Behavioral Health Workforce within the University of South Florida Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute to promote education, foster innovation and advance research initiatives in Florida. I am grateful for the support of USF, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and my colleagues in the Florida Legislature for supporting this meaningful legislation that is now Florida statute."

Sen. Jim Garrison

Rep. Sam Garrison

“The demand for mental and behavioral health services is greater than ever before,” Garrison said. “The passing of Senate Bill 330 shows that the state of Florida is at the forefront of addressing this critical demand by expanding access to behavioral health services and working to create and support a highly skilled mental health workforce pipeline at the newly established Florida Center for Behavioral Health Workforce at the USF Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute.”

The College of Behavioral and Community Sciences is uniquely positioned to serve as home of the Florida Center for Behavioral Health Workforce because of its interdisciplinary and collaborative focus that includes the behavioral sciences in one college and its portfolio of research conducted in FMHI over the past 50 years.

“Through our recent research to understand the need for mental health services and the availability of behavioral health care providers, we project a significant gap," said Carrie Zeisse, president and CEO of Tampa Bay Thrives, a local organization that champions mental health advocacy through legislation, community partnerships and public education. "We are thrilled that the Florida Center for Behavioral Health Workforce will be in place to ensure that there are adequate pathways and strategies for growing this important sector."

Nurses practice treatment on a mannequin

Throughout the last year, 55 behavioral health care students gained hands-on experience working with one of 40 local organizations that partner with USF, such as Tampa Bay Thrives, as part of their field placement. In addition to undergraduate degrees, students can also earn master’s degrees in rehabilitation and mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, applied behavior analysis and social work. USF also offers doctoral degrees in applied behavior analysis, behavioral and community sciences and social work.

USF has a strong track record of keeping a pulse on workforce demands and rising to the challenge through the creation of new curriculum and programs. The USF College of Nursing is home to the Florida Center for Nursing and is in the process of expanding undergraduate nursing education. More than 750 undergraduates are expected to graduate with a degree in nursing by 2028 – a 200% increase – helping address the critical nursing shortage. 

Return to article listing