A social worker speaking with a young patient.

Ohio State Lima partners with Mental Health and Recovery Services Board to boost number of behavioral health social workers

Public and private human service institutions are struggling to find front-line workers, managers and leaders. A new partnership between the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin Counties and The Ohio State University at Lima aims to improve the situation in the area by elevating the visibility of careers in behavioral health.

Ohio State Lima has hired a new behavioral health specialist to increase interest among social work students in filling the behavioral health positions in the board’s service region. The position is funded by the Mental Health and Recovery Board for a three-year term with an option to extend the position.

“Careers in human services are rewarding and fulfilling and make a difference for the life chances of children and families of all ages,” said Tim Rehner, dean and director at Ohio State Lima and a social worker. “It is a natural fit for the Lima campus to host this position. We have a vibrant and growing social work program with graduates that are prepared for the positions that are now vacant in so many human service organizations. Placing and supporting our local students who are already invested in this part of Ohio is key if we are to ever address the behavioral health workforce needs.”

Social work students in all disciplines at Ohio State complete an intensive internship component before graduation. The new behavioral health specialist will help place students with MHRSB agencies for internships and develop pathways for permanent hires. Six students interested in behavioral health after graduation have already been placed for the 2022-2023 academic year.

“Internships are the key element of students’ education where they are able to bridge what they have learned in the classroom with beginning to see it and put it into practice in our community,” said Carmen Cupples, MSW, LISW-S, social work program and field placement coordinator at Ohio State Lima.

Cupples helped develop the partnership with MHRSB’s Executive Director Tammie Colon. They knew they wanted to address the workforce shortages and started looking at ways to create awareness about the behavioral health career paths, ramp up the quality of senior field experiences, and help students find funding to make pursuing work in this critical field cost effective.

“Our community will be as strong as the health and well-being of each of our community members. If they cannot access the needed behavioral health services we are not able to be a healthy community,” Cupples said. “Right now, behavioral health is experiencing a workforce shortage of around 12% both locally and nationally. It is expected that the social work profession will be one of the fastest-growing occupations over the next decade, but the amount it will grow will still not be enough to bridge the gap of the need that is out there.”

MHRSB agencies include We Care Crisis Center, Family Resource Center, Lima UMADAOP, Coleman Health Services, SAFY, Prevention Awareness Support Services, NAMI and Hope Recovery Center.