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Coming together for Colorado

Faculty member awarded grants for development of behavioral health workforce

By Matt Watson

September 28, 2017

MSU Denver campusA high school dropout, a drug addict, a Provost’s Award recipient and a future drug counselor. Elizabeth Hubbard has been all of those things. She overcame addiction with the help of a court-appointed counselor, turned herself into a standout college student and graduated with a degree in human services with a concentration in addiction studies, intent on delivering the kind of help that transformed her life.

Research by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has found that 89 percent of the counties in the state are underserved with regard to behavioral health services, struggling to help people who struggle with addiction like Hubbard did. Colorado ranks 39th nationally in access to mental health care, with the fifth-highest rate of drug dependence and abuse and the sixth-worst treatment gap.

To help address those needs in Colorado and across the country, the Health Resources and Services Administration awarded 150 grants for a total of $44 million to develop and expand the substance abuse and behavioral health workforce across the United States. Dawn Matera Bassett, associate professor of social work at MSU Denver, applied for and was awarded two grants totaling $3.06 million. The grants, from HRSA’s Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training program, will together provide more than $750,000 per year over the next four years for workforce development in Colorado – developing more people like the person Hubbard is today.

The first grant provides $1.92 million to support graduate students pursuing a clinical career in a wide array of health care (behavioral, medical or integrated) settings. MSU Denver is including Colorado State University in the scope of its project by offering stipends to 116 students in their final year of a Master of Social Work degree at either of the schools.

The second grant will support paraprofessional workforce development with $1.14 million in funding to train 280 students seeking certificates in high risk youth studies or bachelor’s degrees with an addiction studies concentration from MSU Denver’s Department of Human Services.

"With opioid addiction on the rise in Colorado, this grant will support workforce development for health care professionals in our state and serve communities that need behavioral counselors the most. We were honored to support MSU's application for this funding,” said Sen. Michael Bennett, who wrote a letter of support on the school’s behalf.

HRSA requires grantees to maintain or establish partnerships with a broad range of community partners, and Matera Bassett’s proposals garnered support from across the state, including Bennet, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, state Rep. Jonathan Singer, the Colorado Office of the State Court Administrator and the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, among others.

“MSU Denver will use these funds to the benefit of students and the community alike,” DeGette said. “Partnering with CSU on this project, the University will build a skilled workforce in behavioral and integrated health for rural, vulnerable and medically-underserved areas. It’s a win for all involved, and I was gratified to have played a part in securing these grants.”

The grants will boost partnerships with organizations such as Denver Public Schools, the Denver Indian Family Resource Center, the Asian Pacific Development Center, specialty courts in Colorado and community mental health centers across the metropolitan area.

“We know that in Colorado, we have a huge problem with addiction, and we have a huge problem with adolescents falling through the cracks,” Matera Bassett said. “These grants help at-risk, vulnerable populations, and when you start saying those words, you’re talking about everything social work does.”


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