Ozarks Technical Community College and Burrell Behavioral Health partner to fill shortages in behavioral health jobs

SPRINGFIELD, MO (KY3) – Missouri is experiencing a shortage of behavioral health workers. A partnership between Burrell Behavioral Health and Ozarks Technical Community College is changing that by providing scholarships and practical training for students.

Students in the Behavioral Health Support Program do approximately 300 hours of practical training. These hours of practicum give students real-world experience of case management level jobs they can apply to upon graduation, says Amy Shelley, program director at OTC.

“They work directly with clients on a mostly weekly basis, sometimes multiple times a week,” Shelley says. “They help people with goal setting, coping skills, and anything that has to do with everyday life that someone might need help with.”

In the past, a bachelor’s degree was required to take on those case manager roles. However, when the state Department of Mental Health saw the need for behavioral health workers, they changed that to an associate’s degree.

“Because of the targeted education we offer here at OTC and the curriculum we have developed, along with the Missouri Department of Mental Health, we can have our graduates fill positions at the case manager level with an associate’s degree,” Shelley says.

In the past, the turnover rate for the state as a whole was 40% for employees at the case manager level.

“In 2015, the Missouri Department of Mental Health came to OTC, along with our community partners, and asked if we could help them turn the tide in turnover,” Shelley says.

Because of the in-depth training provided through OTC, Shelley says, workers are more likely to remain in the field.

“Of all these students, we only have a 5% turnover,” Shelley says.

Gina Burroughs, director of Borrell’s system, says this partnership has provided them with a steady flow of staff to fill in any gaps.

“Being able to have that workforce that’s well trained and ready to take off, and being able to help individuals who want that career path,” Burroughs said.

Burrell provided $10,000 for the program so that behavioral health students could receive scholarships. This is in addition to the $4,000 previously donated for scholarships. A new donation of $10,000 will be available to students to apply for the Spring 2022 semester.

Scholarships are worth $500 per semester or $1,000 per academic year.

“Save that investment in our workforce,” Burroughs says. “Even those who don’t officially work for us yet, it shows commitment to the program and to the students.”

Catelyn Harrison graduated from OTC in 2020 and got a job at Burrell upon graduation. For Harrison, the grant money was crucial.

“Hands-on training is a must,” Harrison says. “It gives you all that experience, and I loved doing it. It helped me focus more on everything in that experience and not worry about any financial stress.”

Harrison says she felt ready to start working at Burrell because of the education she received from the program at OTC.

“I was ready to meet my first client,” Harrison says. “I already had a plan on how to present myself, how I wanted to start building that relationship with clients and start the process of working with them.”

Behavioral health student Adam McConnell did not originally go to the OTC for this program. However, McConnell says he found a passion for working in mental health along the way.

“A career that is not only financially supportive but also satisfying,” McConnell says. “In this field, we go out every day into our communities and positively impact people’s lives.”

McConnell says his hands-on hours allow him to take what he learns in class and actually apply it in the field.

“It really bridges a gap between connecting the things we learn to their actual practical applications,” McConnell says.

There are about 10 to 15 students in the program each year.

Borrell says it has hired about 80% of students who have graduated in the past.

“It has certainly provided us with a steady stream of well-qualified applicants so that we can fill these roles,” Burroughs says. “Whatever they are across the agency.”

OTC says, since the program began in 2016, every student who wanted a job upon graduation has been offered a job at a local facility.

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