“This has been a difficult time for communities and the behavioral health organizations that serve them with mental health, addiction and preventions services,” says Mary Monnat, CEO of LifeWorks NW, the largest outpatient mental health provider in Oregon. “Reports share that more than 50 percent of adult Americans are feeling COVID has negatively affected their mental health, while at the same time the number of people entering school in this field has dwindled.
“Organizations like LifeWorks NW have been working closely with the state to find ways to bolster employee recruitment and retention. For that reason, the recent approval of two loan repayment programs for many of our clinicians is a huge step in the right direction.”
LifeWorks NW was awarded two programs through the state: the Oregon Health Care Provider Loan Repayment (OHCP) and the Oregon Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program (OBHLRP). Nine of its outpatient clinics and residential sites were approved as application-sites this month, and LifeWorks NW believes the rest of its outpatient and residential sites will be approved shortly.
Now that the sites are approved, qualified staff can apply immediately to be considered for a state student loan repayment program.
“Helping ensure that our staff is fairly compensated for the life changing, life-saving care they provide is a high priority for LifeWorks NW,” says Monnat. “We advocate strongly with the state, counties and other funding partners to increase our rates so that they cover the true cost of our services and support our workforce. These rates drive salaries and need to be regularly adjusted especially as the cost of living continues to rise in the Portland area and beyond. This advocacy work is critical, and we are having some success which allowed us to take a big leap in increasing salaries in July. In addition to salary increases, LifeWorks NW can now offer critical loan repayment assistance to help our staff burdened with school debt reduce it more quickly.”
The loan forgiveness programs are available to full-time and part-time service providers who commit to a 3-year minimum service obligation in exchange for a tax-free award toward their qualifying educational loan debt balance,
“Our advocacy will continue,” says Monnat. “I am encouraged that the critical need for our services, and their lack of availability, has become even more acutely visible during the pandemic which will hopefully continue to lead to greater investment by our funders and the broader community.”