Partnership formed with Blue Cross Blue Shield grant to boost SW La. health care workforce

There is a shortage of behavioral healthcare service providers in Southwest Louisiana, but a partnership between the McNeese State University Foundation, Imperial Calcasieu Human Services Authority and a “consortium of community collaborators” aims to fill critical workforce gaps.

The Southwest Louisiana Behavioral Health Pipeline (SWLA BHP) was announced Thursday. SWLA BHP is an initiative that aims to increase the availability of accessible and effective behavioral healthcare services by incentivizing McNeese students in the behavioral health field to complete their graduate work at McNeese and encouraging those students to become healthcare professionals in Southwest Louisiana.

SWLA BHP was made possible by a $315,000 collective impact grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. Chloe Wiley, initiative manager, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, said that the pipelines’ mission aligned with the foundation’s values.

“From the foundation’s perspective, we really felt like it was a unique approach to address the behavioral health shortage, so hopefully this is a great idea that can spread across the state and be replicated. …We want to fund groups that come together to address a systemic issue that’s affecting the health of their community.”

There is a statewide shortage of behavioral healthcare professionals. This need was compounded in Southwest Louisiana following Hurricanes Laura and Delta, said Tanya McGee, executive director, Imperial Calcasieu Human Services Authority. In addition to losing behavioral health providers and students, the area saw an increased need for behavioral health care.

“We saw an increase in clients walking through our doors, an increase in in-person visits, we saw an increase in deaths by suicide, we saw increases in deaths by overdose, and all this time we’re steadily losing providers. … “The more that we can get behavioral professionals in the community, then we’ll have better access to care.” ”

The authority alone saw a 20 percent increase in patients last year.

In an effort to build and retain a local workforce to ensure there are enough resources for civilians, the Authority collaborated with McNeese’s Department of Psychology and Counseling  to see what needed to be done. They determined that the reduced workforce stemmed from a lack of paid internships for graduate level clinical mental health counseling students.

To counteract this, it was decided that grant funding will be used to keep the students in Southwest Louisiana instead of leaving the community to complete graduate work elsewhere by providing paid internship sites and stipends.

“What this does is expand the opportunity for students to be placed within our community, stay within our community,” said Kevin Yaudes, assistant department head, McNeese Department of Psychology and Counseling.

The grant aims to support 10 students per year over the next three years. Students will receive the stipend once they begin their clinical work.

Providers will also receive financial incentives to take in students.

The SWLA BHP will also focus on providing education and training to “demystify the pathways to becoming a behavioral health clinician” and forge partnership to create a behavioral health coalition to continue to address challenges in the behavioral healthcare sector, according to a release.

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