After completing their initial courses, students could start working at one of the hospitals while they continue their training

 

By John Laidler Globe Correspondent,Updated January 13, 2023

At a time of growing demand for mental health services, a regional job agency north of Boston is trying to help local hospitals fill jobs in the field.

The MassHire North Shore Workforce Board was recently awarded a $319,880 state grant for a two-year program to prepare 40 participants for mental health counselor and specialist positions at Salem Hospital and at Beverly Hospital and two of its affiliates — Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester and BayRidge Hospital in Lynn.

The workforce board is undertaking the initiative in partnership with the hospitals and in collaboration with North Shore Community College and Salem State University.

“We know health care is a priority industry in our region, and we presently have a very large need for people in the mental health field,” said Mary Sarris, executive director of the workforce board, one of 16 regional boards in Massachusetts that help job seekers and businesses with their employment needs.

Sarris said the shortage of mental health workers, whose entry level pay is typically $20-$25 per hour, reflects rising demand for mental health services. Responding to that demand, the state recently launched a Behavioral Health Help Line and designated 25 walk-in mental health centers.

The workforce board applied for the grant after hearing from the hospitals last year about their pressing need for trained workers to staff their mental health units, Sarris said.

Under the program, participants will pursue a certificate or an associate’s degree in human services at North Shore Community College. After completing their initial two courses, those students would be eligible to be hired by one of the hospitals, enabling them to start working even as they continue their training at the college.

The grant and $136,691 in matching funds provided by the hospitals will cover the students’ tuition costs for the first six courses. Students can access tuition reimbursement offered by the hospitals and other types of financial aid to help with the costs of completing the certificate or degree.

Designed for working adults, the seven-week classes are remote and can be taken one at a time.

“This is a great opportunity for people who want to get into this field,” Sarris said.

Erinn Gilmore, North Shore Community College’s human services and developmental disabilities chair, said the college “is committed to training the much-needed health care workforce of the North Shore and is excited to be partnering with the local hospitals to offer free highly-specialized training programs to recruit new and incumbent workers.”

Salem State University is participating through an existing partnership in which it accepts credits toward a bachelor’s degree that North Shore Community College students have earned with their associate’s degree, providing them a path toward further education.

The mental health program each year will have two cohorts of 20 students apiece. Half the participants will be existing employees who hold other jobs at the hospitals.

The state award came under the Donnelly Workforce Success Grants program, partly funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Salem Hospital has a 120-bed inpatient mental health unit, along with 24 beds in its emergency department — 16 of those newly-added treatment beds — according to Maria Stacy, the hospital’s director of child and adolescent inpatient psychiatry.

Stacy called the new workforce board initiative “extremely exciting” for the hospital.

“One of our longstanding struggles, which has intensified since the pandemic, is getting enough staffing,” she said, noting that over the past several years the hospital has consistently been able to staff only 100-105 of its 120 inpatient beds.

Beverly Hospital has an 18-bed psychiatric unit, while Addison Gilbert has an 18-20 bed unit. BayRidge is a 60-bed psychiatric hospital.

Tom Sands, president of Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals, expressed appreciation for the state’s support of “our shared mission of investing in the mental health and well-being of our community by improving the career path for mental health counselors.”

He said the recent grant “helps us invest in candidates committed to developing their careers as mental health counselors, allowing us to build our ranks to support our patients with greater access to mental health services, a critical component in supporting the health and well-being of our communities.”

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