Public, private partnership to address shortage mental health workers

BUCKHANNON, W.Va.- West Virginia Wesleyan College has announced a partnership to quickly develop a new master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. The program is a collaboration funded by a $1.2 million investment by Aetna Better Health of West Virginia and supported by Community Care of West Virginia.

West Virginia has one mental and behavioral healthcare provider for every 770 people; nationwide, that number is at least one for every 400 people, and in the central region of the state, the number is one for every 1,434 people, according to Rick Simon, the CEO of Community Care of West Virginia.

“It’s an investment to meet a tremendous need in West Virginia and invest in West Virginians to take care of themselves,” Simon said.

West Virginia Wesleyan College President, Dr. James Moore said since the Memorandum of Understanding has been signed they have developing the program in hopes of a fall 2023 rollout.

“Those numbers are shocking, so as an institution of higher education it’s our job, it’s our role to provide solutions to problems,” Dr. Moore said. “The last six months have been exciting as we have been able to really roll up our sleeves and work with the experts at Community Care of West Virginia.”

Due to the need, one of the top priorities, in addition to a quick rollout, was to make it available to professionals in the field looking to advance their careers. Flexibility and access are key components, and Moore believes the program will be a 60-credit, 18- to 24-month commitment for the student.

“People can continue their professional journeys without having to pause and take time away from their work,” Dr. Moore said. “We want this program to be attractive to people who are already in the workforce and want to slide into this level.”

At Community Care of West Virginia, Simon has made a promise to place 100 percent of the graduates of the first class, but that doesn’t mean they’ll accept the offer, according to Simon.

“We have given them a pledge for the class that we will hire the entire graduating class if they would like,” Simon said. “But because of the quality of the program they are putting together, the graduates will have a lot of choices about where they can be employed.”

Built into the mission of Aetna Better Health of West Virginia is to develop resources to meet community need. The investment, expertise from Community Care of West Virginia and resources of West Virginia Wesleyan College have created a focused effort to quickly get the program running.

“We’re able to be even more nimble than we normally are, so that’s a plug for why small private institutions are relevant in our region and our state because we can go fast,” Dr. Moore said.