College of Health receives grant to bolster behavioral health education across Alaska

by Vicki Nechodomu  |   

UAA's Health Science Building and Parrish Bridge seen from Providence Drive.
UAA's Health Science Building and Parrish Bridge seen from Providence Drive (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

The University of Alaska Anchorage College of Health (COH) has received a four-year, $1.92 million grant from the United States Health Resources and Services Administration to provide an innovative training program for future behavioral health professionals in Alaska and to facilitate the growth of the state’s behavioral health workforce. This award addresses the critical need for increased behavioral health care access across the state, particularly in rural and underserved Alaska communities.

The initiative will train students from several UAA graduate programs — in psychology, social work, nursing and occupational therapy — to provide culturally responsive care. Students will be placed at behavioral health treatment settings around the state. They will train with current providers and learn best practices in delivering care to diverse populations, including Alaska Natives, individuals in LGBTQ2+ communities, people living in poverty and youth exposed to violence. The program will focus on providing care via telehealth technology, which is vital to meeting behavioral health care needs in Alaska’s remote communities.

The initiative will provide students with job search and career development support to facilitate their entry into the behavioral health workforce after graduation. It will also include creating a consortium of behavioral health providers across Alaska to assist with strategic planning, training curriculum, and student recruitment and subsequent employment in Alaska.

“Alaska faces an overwhelming need for behavioral health care providers,” said Kathy Craft, COH associate dean for Planning, Development and Partnerships. “This award allows us to expand our education of home-grown professionals who know our state and are committed to working and living in our communities. It also recognizes the importance of training behavioral health providers who know how to work as part of an interprofessional care team. We know that many vulnerable Alaskans experience interrelated physical and behavioral health issues. It’s essential that they receive care which addresses those issues holistically — and that they have access to care in their home communities, where and when they need it.”

“Careers in mental health and substance abuse treatment continue to be among the fastest growing and most rewarding professions in communities throughout Alaska,” said Tom Chard, CEO of Alaska Behavioral Health Association. “Despite this, workforce shortages remain one of the largest challenges in the industry. This challenge holds us back from our goal of providing timely access to quality, cost-effective behavioral healthcare. UAA has continued to explore ways to train and educate the practitioners our industry needs and equip them with the skills to better serve Alaska. The Alaska Behavioral Health Association is thrilled to partner with the University of Alaska Anchorage to offer industry-leading practical experience and support in educating our future behavioral health care treatment professionals.”

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