May 21, 2024

$4.2 million committed to mental health workforce

Kaiser Permanente grant addresses critical need for mental health workers in Colorado.

Contact: Andrew Sorensen
Kaiser Permanente media relations

Keylen Villagrana
MSU Denver media relations


DENVER — To address an acute need for mental health professionals in Colorado, Kaiser Permanente and several collaborators are launching the new Mental Health Workforce Accelerator Collaborative. Kaiser Permanente is dedicating $4.2 million in grants toward the effort.

In collaboration with the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and the Metropolitan State University of Denver, the accelerator will scale through 2024 and 2025, with the goal of increasing and diversifying the mental health workforce across the state.

“Kaiser Permanente’s mission is to improve the health of the communities we serve,” said Mike Ramseier, regional president for Kaiser Permanente in Colorado. “To effectively address the local impacts of the national mental health crisis, we need to develop a communitywide mental health workforce that effectively represents the communities hit hardest.”

Mental health-related conditions have steadily increased for years, including higher rates of depression, anxiety, overdoses, and suicide. Yet, in 2022, the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration estimated the state had more than twice as many vacant mental health jobs than similar-sized areas across the country, according to its report, Strengthening the Behavioral Health Workforce in Colorado: An Approach to Community Partnership.

To develop a diverse mental health workforce pipeline, the accelerator bridges the gap between degrees and licensure for aspiring mental health workers. Acquiring required clinical hours — as well as the costs of study materials and testing — can present barriers for people on the way to becoming licensed mental health professionals.

For too many graduates in mental health fields, the additional hurdles and costs stop their careers before they start, particularly for underrepresented groups, who may not have established social networks in the industry.

While unlicensed mental health workers can treat Medicare patients, a license opens the door to treating more people, which helps providers sustain their practice.

“The Gina and Frank Day Health Institute at MSU Denver is working to address mental and behavioral workforce shortages across Colorado. In collaboration with organizations like Kaiser Permanente, we are breaking down barriers to get more licensed practitioners in the field that reflect the populations that they serve,” said Emily Matuszewicz, director of development and partnerships at the Gina and Frank Day Health Institute at MSU Denver. “This innovative initiative comes at a critical time when 1 in 5 individuals in our state are in need of mental health services and less than one-third receive that care.”

Kaiser Permanente’s grants are funding stipends, oversight, operations, and analysis of the program.

The Gina and Frank Day Health Institute at MSU Denver is running the Colorado accelerator, securing clinical-hour placements and supervision for pre- and post-master’s associates who will work in community provider settings serving vulnerable populations. The institute is also establishing a peer cohort and providing study materials.

Placements have been secured for 33 participants in the program’s first cohorts with a preference for nonprofit and public entities serving vulnerable, underserved populations. Community providers currently hosting participants include:

  • Denver/Boulder/Aurora Metro
  • Aurora Mental Health and Recovery
  • WellPower
  • Mental Health Partners
  • Judi’s House
  • AllHealth Network
  • Jefferson Center for Mental Health
  • Jewish Family Service
  • Community Reach Center
  • Southern Colorado
  • Diversus Health
  • Health Solutions
  • Solvista Health
  • Northern Colorado
  • North Range Behavioral Health

Chi’Anne Brieske, a participant in the collaborative’s first cohort, obtained clinical hours through Diversus Health in El Paso County. The collaborative paid Brieske’s stipend via the Kaiser Permanente grants.

“The field is fascinating. It’s a delicate balance between science and art,” she said. Brieske obtained a master’s degree in 2021, but she won’t obtain full licensure until mid-2024.

She said MSU Denver helped clear several barriers, providing free study materials, which otherwise cost hundreds of dollars. The cohort provided participants a critical space to navigate sometimes confusing licensure paperwork and other hurdles.

“I had a couple of peers from grad school who gave up because they couldn’t afford to do a clinical internship for free for a year,” she said. “This program is super beneficial.”

Brieske plans to continue toward a doctorate, eventually fulfilling a passion for working with youth in the justice system.

This program is part of Kaiser Permanente’s overarching goal to improve the lives of its members by delivering evidence-based, outcomes-driven mental health and addiction care in the right setting at the right time. It also builds on Kaiser Permanente’s long-standing commitment to support our communities’ social needs, with programs that help provide access to housing, food, and mental health care.

“If we are going to meet our community’s overall health needs, we have to remove as many barriers as we can for the people who want to do those jobs,” said Jeff Krawcek, MD, executive medical director and president of the Colorado Permanente Medical Group. “This community-based approach delivers help to many areas of Colorado with the highest needs.”

Aspiring mental health workers across the country will soon see similar benefits. The Colorado collaborative is part of a national effort, which will kick off a similar accelerator in Georgia.

About the Gina and Frank Day Health Institute at MSU Denver

Housed within Metropolitan State University of Denver’s College of Health and Human Sciences, the Gina and Frank Day Health Institute at MSU Denver is a catalyst for student-centered workforce partnerships, with programming across 10 academic departments developing the next generation of Colorado’s health care professionals.

At the heart of it is improving health access and equity. This happens by embracing an evidence-based, whole-person approach to wellness, empowering individuals to help serve the communities they come from.

MSU Denver’s Health Institute is Colorado’s prescription for Change.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 12.5 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists, and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery, and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education, and the support of community health.