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Strengthening Colorado’s Current and Future Behavioral Health Workforce to Meet the Diverse Needs and Backgrounds of the State’s Growing Population

Colorado Access Tackles Challenges Faced by Behavioral Health Providers With Funding, Reimbursement Increases, Incentive Programs and Specialty Trainings

DENVER – In Colorado and nationwide, the behavioral health workforce faces staffing shortages, lacks cultural and linguistic diversity and isn’t always in a position to offer culturally responsive care to meet the needs of patients. Nationally, the most common ethnicity of mental health professionals is white (80.9%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (9.1%) and Black or African American (6.7%) (source). Colorado Access membership data shows a discrepancy with just 31% of its members identifying as white, 37% as Hispanic or Latino, and 12% as Black or African American.

Colorado Access is providing an immediate solution to these issues through a multi-pronged strategy. The organization is working to strengthen the behavioral health workforce through funding full-time clinicians and increasing reimbursement fees paid out to network providers. It is also addressing the lack of workforce diversity by working with community partners to broaden the  pipeline of talent, and make sure culturally responsive training is an integral part of workforce development.

Recognizing the need for a provider workforce that is more reflective of the membership they serve, Colorado Access is working with local higher education institutions and counseling services, like MSU Denver and Maria Droste Counseling Center, to increase the diversity of those entering into the behavioral health field. The program focuses on every step of the process, from early exposure to the field and excitement, to licensing and credentialing, to career placement and growth, offering help through scholarships, incentives and funding along the way.

“Traditionally, we have looked at underserved communities as a monolithic entity,” said Ed Bautista, director of development at Maria Droste Counseling Center. “As we move forward with this initiative, we can better serve discrete populations at the intersections of their needs by creating a provider pool reflective of all the diversity Colorado has to offer.”

Colorado Access has taken a wide and varied approach to increase access to needed behavioral health services. This has ranged from funding full-time therapist positions within partner organizations that serve a diverse population, to increasing fees for reimbursement of behavioral health services paid back to the provider, and increasing access to therapy services (the need for which has increased significantly due to the pandemic) to be rendered by pre-licensed clinicians.

“Almost every time I receive a call from a client, they speak about the numerous phone calls they made to reach a behavioral health provider that accepts Medicaid,” said Charles Mayer-Twomey, LCSW, of Mountain Thrive Counseling, PLCC. “This change will ultimately increase access to services for so many clients in one of the most populated areas of the state. It will also help my growing group practice recruit qualified and competitive providers, which in turn will provide a higher quality of care to the community at large.”

Colorado continues to bring together many cultures and backgrounds, including increasing refugee and immigrant populations, and thus the need for culturally responsive training for health providers has never been greater. Colorado Access recently developed a cultural training series to introduce providers and social workers to some cultural nuances that can be seen in refugee populations as a way to improve quality of care to a growing diverse community.

“The pandemic has reinforced the importance of behavioral health services,” said Rob Bremer, vice president of network strategy at Colorado Access. “There is no simple solution to increase access to these needed services, which is why our comprehensive approach includes critical funding support now, and also an investment in the future.”

About Colorado Access
As the largest and most experienced public sector health plan in the state, Colorado Access is a nonprofit organization that works beyond just navigating health services. The company focuses on meeting members’ unique needs by partnering with providers and community organizations to provide better personalized care through measurable results. Their broad and deep view of regional and local systems allows them to stay focused on members’ care while collaborating on measurable and economically sustainable systems that serve them better. Learn more at