By: Kayla Friedrich
[SPOKANE, Wash.] It is not easy to ignore the growing demand for solutions to healthcare inequities in Spokane and throughout the Inland Northwest.
In response to the demand for accessible behavioral health resources, Spokane Falls Community Colleges is collaborating with a multitude of community partners to address the issue by collaborating on the creation of a HyFlex modality Bachelor of Applied Science in Integrated Behavioral Health that students anywhere can learn in person or online.
Through local research and the input of community partners, the need for bachelor’s level candidates to enter the behavioral health workforce has become increasingly more essential.
Bachelor’s candidates can support the work of master’s level professionals to treat substance use and mental health disorders to serve the growing demand for behavioral health services in Eastern Washington.
Labor Insights reports of Behavioral Health Occupations revealed that over half of the 705 behavioral health job openings in SFCC’s service area specifically call on bachelor’s level candidates to apply.
“Spokane has a higher suicide rate than other towns, higher numbers of overdoses including fentanyl and at the same time has a lot of employers trying to address the problem because they don’t have the staff,” said Ursula Heflick, one of the lead faculty members in the program. “There isn’t one employer that we are in contact with who is not short-staffed, which leads to burnout by the employees who were employed or are still employed by them.”
Joseph LaRocque is one of the students admitted into the first competitive-selection cohort of the new program. He is driven by personal experiences with addiction to inform care techniques that will support people in need of behavioral health services.
For LaRocque, there's more to completing this degree than a piece of paper and titles. It's about helping people try to understand their addictions and find healthy mechanisms to create a better community.
“There is so much disconnection in the community and clients that are already vulnerable,” LaRocque said. “They don’t feel comfortable going to multiple agencies for different services I’m just taking all of this knowledge and applying it to the clientele that we do have.”
The curriculum qualifies graduates of the program to receive their Behavioral Health Support Specialist Credential. Preparing graduates to hold positions as career support counselors, case managers, community health workers, social service assistants, residential advisors and social workers.
“After my bachelor’s program is completed, I really hope to explore more options in Spokane. I’d like to be a facility director, whether that’s at a substance use treatment agency or in an integrated facility, I would like to be a director of a substance use program… I’m taking all this knowledge and figuring out to apply this to the clientele that we do have.”
With the support of SFCC faculty and Spokane community partners, a cohort of 13 students completed their first quarter of the two-year degree program in December. At the beginning of the fall and winter quarters the program will welcome new cohorts of approximately 18 students, supported by Eastern Washington community partners who are eager to foster student success.
As the program continues to grow and cohorts successfully move through their courses, graduates will be ready to step into the workforce and be active behavioral health resources of the community.