A program that pairs social work students with medical professionals in under-served areas of Colorado just received a new injection of federal funding.
“My field placement at Salud Family Health Centers was a great experience in a truly integrated care clinic,” said Pedro Diaz, who got his master’s in social work from CSU in 2016. “Although it felt intimidating at first to be working side by side with medical providers, it was apparent that doctors were in need of our knowledge and expertise.”
In the fourth consecutive year of cross-university collaboration, Colorado State University’s School of Social Work and Metropolitan State University-Denver’s School of Social Work have been awarded $1.92 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
The award is provided through the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) program, which aims to develop and expand the behavioral health workforce in Colorado, especially in rural and medically underserved areas. This is the second grant from the program as a result of the two Colorado schools’ collaboration.
Preparing social workers
“Our current evaluation data indicates we’re impacting the capacity of our field placements, and enhancing the behavioral health work force,” said CSU’s School of Social Work Director Audrey Shillington. “We appreciate the great efforts of the teams at CSU and MSU, the leadership of [MSU] Associate Professor Dawn Matera Bassett, and the support of all our behavioral health community partners for this effort.”
The schools’ collaboration project is entitled “Colorado Initiative to Address Health Professional Shortages in Rural, Vulnerable, & Medically Underserved Areas & Populations through Development & Retention of our Professional Workforce.”
The project is designed to specifically address behavioral health care workforce needs for serving individuals of all ages, particularly those living in HRSA-designated Health Professional Shortage Areas throughout the state of Colorado. All but ten counties in the state have behavioral health care shortages.
Master of Social Work student stipends
Advanced standing and concentration year Master of Social Work students who are selected as BHWET Behavioral Health Scholars receive preparation to engage in behavioral health interventions with rural and medically under-served populations.
The BHWET Behavioral Health Scholars receive a $10,000 stipend for advanced field education and behavioral health training, and work within the field for a year in Colorado following their graduation.
These M.S.W. students form a cadre of social work practitioners prepared to respond specifically to current and future behavioral health crises, with training in new practice models, such as integrated behavioral health, to improve the quality of behavioral health in Colorado.
Field education and advanced training
The field education funded by the BHWET program provides a hands-on learning experience for students to practice skills and merge knowledge from the classroom, in an agency setting.
“Medical providers at Salud understand the value and benefit of having a behavioral health team that can address the mental health needs of their patients,” said Diaz. “They see the direct impact we can make in helping patients achieve health goals.”
Advanced training is also provided through the stipend. “It allowed me to focus on my studies and tasks related to my internship,” said Diaz. “The classes in the program also prepared me to understand the complexities of the integrated care system.”
Partnership success opens door for program expansion
Over the past three years, the grant has provided funding for 34 CSU BHWET Behavioral Health Scholars, including four who will graduate in December.
During the next four years, the collaboration of Colorado State University’s School of Social Work and Metropolitan State University-Denver’s School of Social Work will aim to graduate a total of 116 BHWET Behavioral Health Scholars, to address behavioral health workforce needs in Colorado.