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INDIANAPOLIS — There is a shortage of behavioral health professionals and one of the largest hospital organizations in the Indianapolis area is launching a new effort as a solution to the shortage.
Community Health Network is looking to hire more employees like Jackie Lentz. She is a dual-licensed clinical social worker and has the specialized expertise needed in Indiana's fight against the opioid epidemic.
Lentz said her training combines social work and addiction counseling, which helps serve her patients at Community Health on a broader level, addressing their substance abuse issues and the root triggers behind them.
Lentz says there is a demand for more social workers like her.
"There are too few of us and so I am all on board with helping anybody that would like to like to come in here and work with this population," Lentz said.
The demand for behavioral health professionals is growing. In fact, Indiana needs to fill more than 7,000 positions to meet the need.
The hospital network has come up with a collaborative solution to groom more dual-licensed clinical social workers.
Community Health Vice President of Behavioral Health George Hurd says the network has tried a number of other methods to hire people, including signing bonuses and recruitment bonuses.
"We just weren't getting the workforce," Hurd said. "And that's when we realized the problem really isn't us, there's just not the workforce to be had."
Through a new endeavor launched this month, called Community Behavioral Health Academy, Community Health is working with University of Indianapolis's School of Social Work, IUPUI, and Ascend Indiana to bolster the number of clinical social workers who can address not only addiction, but also mental health issues simultaneously.
"[This program] will have a profound impact on what is a public health crisis in our state," Jason Kloth, president and chief executive officer of Ascend Indiana, said.
Hurd said the academy hopes offering students financial incentives and a streamlined pathway to a higher-paying position will help attract people to this high-stress profession, which has typically offered low salaries.
The field requires those who pursue it to have a high level of education, extensive on-the-job training experience, and high scores on certifying exams.
Hurd says the academy provides stipends to students accepted in the program, amounting to $10,000 total, divided in half over the course of the program. There is also a streamlined pathway for candidates to land a higher-paying position at the end of the program.
Next month, Community Health Network and Ascend Indiana begin interviewing student candidates.
The payoff from this project won't materialize until at least 2 years from now, when this new caliber of social workers is ready to hit the labor force.
If this project works, it could serve as a model for other communities around Indiana.