Nine behavioral health interns throughout four sites in North Central Washington are slated to receive funding for their clinical training starting this year, thanks to regional startup of activities from the Workforce Education Investment Act that was passed by the Washington State Legislature in 2021.
The pilot program funding that was authorized last year established training support grants to assist community mental health providers with internship programs for students pursuing careers in fields such as substance use treatment, mental health counseling, clinical social work, and clinical psychology. The Washington State Health Care Authority awarded $292,666 through these new funds to North Central Accountable Community of Health to assist organizations in North Central Washington during the next two years to provide experiential training and clinical supervision for students as part of their professional certifications.
The result? It’s expanding the opportunities for our region’s behavioral health sites to attract more future professionals to help serve the residents of North Central Washington.
“The number one benefit of hosting students as interns is the potential of training and then hiring them when they graduate,” says Blake Edwards, the executive director of behavioral health at Columbia Valley Community Health in Wenatchee. “That’s an important part of the pipeline in providing recruitment for positions within our rural area.”
CVCH is planning to use its internship funding to provide a $20,000 stipend over the course of two years directly to each of two students who will be selected later this spring for internships that will start this fall and continue through the summer of 2024.
“It’s always been zero dollars for therapist internships until now,” Edwards points out. “We will likely attract more and better applicants by offering paid internships. This is much better than the typical approach, waiting on a hope and a prayer for students to apply.”
With the newly available stipend, CVCH has been able to initiate more proactive efforts that started in January to recruit interns from Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, and the University of Washington for this fall’s internship openings. Fulltime students in those programs may typically put in 10 hours a week over the course of two years toward obtaining the hours required for their professional credentialing.
The new funding from the Workforce Education Investment Act is also available for organizations to supplement duties of their existing staff members to serve as clinical supervisors for their student interns. The Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment in Wenatchee is among the facilities that is already using this option to support the preceptor hours of substance use disorder professional Daniel Gonzalez for the supervision he’s now doing with recent Eastern Washington University graduate Kenia Paredes. The EWU grad has returned to her hometown of Wenatchee to acquire her certification hours as a substance use disorder professional trainee and is currently assigned to The Center’s outpatient department specializing in the delivery of services to Spanish speakers.
As Loretta Stover, the executive director at The Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment, explains: “Trainees must work under a clinical supervisor, and clinical supervisors must reduce the number of patents they see so they can supervise a trainee’s work. The funding is really helpful. With the reduction of what a fully licensed person can do, that is a way to pay them to provide supervision.”
Stover adds: “During the intern’s first 50 hours, a supervisor needs to be with the trainee and show how to do assessments, write treatment plans, and do hands-on clinical work. The supervisor is with them quite a bit at the beginning. Once they know the trainee can conduct an assessment and progresses, the supervisor can focus on mentoring all core competencies through the development of a long-term training plan.”
Depending on the type of internships and number of slots they are offering, organizations can receive up to $50,000 through the allocations that have been authorized through the Workforce Education Investment Act. Funding is offered at $10,000 for credentialing substance use disorder professionals or substance use disorder professional trainees, $15,000 for bachelor’s degree interns, $20,000 for interns at the master’s degree level, and $25,000 for interns at the doctoral degree level.
Funding for the behavioral health internships through NCACH is open to organizations in Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties (including the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation) that provide behavioral health services to residents living in those counties. Applications were open through NCACH last fall, and initial award selections were sent out in November. A second round of applications to fund trainees will open this May for agencies in Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan, and Grant counties that can precept an intern.
No matter how area organizations are using the internship funds, the results are a complete win-win for the organizations and the students who are seeking their certifications.
“To be able to take on an intern is costly,” says Stover. “I think in these times, when funding is very tight, that this gives us the opportunity to grow new people in the field.”
For more information on the regional behavioral health internship funding program being facilitated by NCACH, please contact Wendy Brzezny at firstname.lastname@example.org.