Campus News

UK Social Work, Appalachian Regional Healthcare partner to offer behavioral health program, meet rural workforce need

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 27, 2023) Leaders from Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) and the University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW) announced a new partnership to address workforce shortages in rural areas of Kentucky and West Virginia.

The new initiative, known as the Behavioral Healthcare Rural Workforce Fellow Program, is designed to support workforce development and increase the number of qualified mental and behavioral health providers for more Central Appalachian patients.

Participants, all of whom will be students in CoSW’s online graduate program, will receive tuition support, onsite academic services, and field practicum and clinical rotations at ARH’s state-funded behavioral health facilities in Hazard, Harlan and Prestonsburg. Upon graduation, participants will also take part in a structured supervision initiative designed to prepare them for advanced clinical practice credentialing and employment at ARH.

“ARH is excited to partner with the University of Kentucky’s College of Social Work to expand the behavioral health workforce in Central Appalachia,” Brian Myers, system director of Behavioral Health at ARH, said. “Given this tremendous need for behavioral health clinicians in the region, we are grateful for the opportunity to help prepare and empower these students for a career in this exciting field.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50% of adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. But getting access to needed treatment can be challenging.

The American Psychological Association’s 2022 COVID-19 Practitioner Impact Survey found six out of 10 practitioners said they no longer have openings for new patients, and approximately 46% said they are unable to meet the demand for treatment. Additionally, a 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by ARH’s Community Development office, found mental health support and access as a priority need for all 14 ARH system hospitals.

“The prevalence of mental and behavioral health issues is staggering compared to physical health ailments,” Jay Miller, dean of the CoSW, said. “The partnership between the CoSW and ARH is a recognition that we must view mental and behavioral care access with the same sense of urgency and fervor that we do other health issues. Investing in the workforce is the first step.”

The Behavioral Healthcare Rural Workforce Fellow Program is part of CoSW’s Corp Collab, or C2, initiative. C2 (formally launched in 2021) aims to build and strengthen community partnerships through shared investment, integrated learning experiences and industry-specific credentialing enhancement.  

The first cohort of fellows will enter the program in January 2024 with recruitment beginning this fall. During Phase 2 of the launch, the program will expand to include undergraduate students at UK.

You can learn more about UK Social Work here.

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