The Behavioral Health Initiative addresses the shortage of behavioral health professionals, particularly in rural and under-served areas of the state. The initiative is coordinated by the Health Sciences Division of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and is driven by academic institutions, state agencies, and community partners working together to increase the number of licensed behavioral health professionals serving West Virginia.

Streamlined approach to ensure success of the initiative

The BHI as developed would be a state-funded program managed by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. The Commission would sponsor statewide initiatives and advance others through grants to local training programs, behavioral health employers, non-profit organizations and other stakeholders. Modeling from the Rural Health Initiative (RHI), successful programs in other states, and by expanding existing work in West Virginia, the Behavioral Health Initiative would focus on the following areas:

  1. Studying behavioral health workforce supply and demand
  2. Incentivizing and promoting advanced careers in behavioral health disciplines
  3. Pipeline recruitment – promotion and programming in secondary and undergraduate education
  4. Increasing support for attainment of specialized credentials and telehealth proficiency
  5. Connecting stakeholders for continuous innovation, collaboration and growth

West Virginia faces an extreme shortage of behavioral health professionals

Almost all of West Virginia’s communities are designated behavioral health professional shortage area sites (HRSA, 2021). Meeting the critical need for behavioral health providers is a significant workforce challenge for our state.

The behavioral health field spans a variety of career options, with many roles that require advanced degrees, specialized training and continuing education throughout one’s career. Job duties often involve services for children, adolescents and adults dealing with behavioral and emotional challenges, mental illness, stress, trauma and substance use.

The BHI will help stabilize and build our behavioral health workforce

West Virginia needs more:
• Mental health counselors
• Social workers
• Psychologists
• Certified alcohol and drug counselors
• Psychiatric nurses
• Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners
• Physician assistants specializing in mental health
• Psychiatrists
• Peer support specialists
• Individuals working in prevention and outreach

Identifying resources and dedicating funding toward behavioral health workforce development will help to tackle the extreme challenges and issues the state faces with behavioral health and will contribute to the success of state plans to address substance misuse, the foster care system, and workforce re-entry for people in recovery.

Contact Us

West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission
Division of Health Sciences
1018 Kanawha Boulevard, East – Suite 700
Charleston, WV 25301

Carolyn Canini, Director of Behavioral Health Programs
Office – (304) 558-0530, ext. 26391