UMSL working with BJC HealthCare, Compass Health to meet growing need for master’s-trained social workers

by | Oct 24, 2022

Under new agreements, employees from two of Missouri’s largest behavioral health providers can pursue MSWs while receiving academic support services to ensure degree completion.
The entrance to the School of Social Work offices on the fourth floor of the Social Sciences and Business Building

The School of Social Work will provide training and support for employees of BJC HealthCare and Compass Health Network seeking their Master of Social Work degrees under two new agreements signed recently. (Photo by August Jennewein)

There is growing demand for behavioral health services across the United States, and it’s brought with it an increased need for quality, trained social workers who can help manage cases and assess, diagnose and treat mental illness as well as substance use and addiction.

Two of Missouri’s largest behavioral health providers, BJC HealthCare and Compass Health Network, are working with the University of Missouri–St. Louis School of Social Work to help ensure they have the trained social workers they need to serve their patients and provide for their well-being.

Both BJC HealthCare and Compass Health have signed new agreements with UMSL that will allow eligible employees to pursue Master of Social Work degrees through the university while receiving relevant academic support services to ensure student achievement and degree completion.

“Social work is an in-demand field and is projected to grow faster than other occupations, and these relationships with BJC and Compass Health recognize its importance and show a commitment to advance efforts to assist with the professional development of their employees while educating and increasing the talent pool to meet the ever-changing needs of communities in this region and throughout the state,” said Natissia Small, UMSL’s vice provost for access, academic support and workforce integration. “For UMSL, it made sense to work with them and aid in their desire to invest in their employees by providing them with the quality education seen within our social work program. These agreements speak volumes about our ability to provide excellent academic programs and to appeal to corporate partners as an anchor institution in the St. Louis region.”

BJC HealthCare already has a number of social workers who have earned – or are in the process of earning – their MSWs at UMSL.

Beth Camp, who serves as BJC’s manager of learning and organizational effectiveness, said that made the decision to pursue a formal agreement with UMSL a logical one as it looked to increase the number of trained social workers on its staff.

“Working with UMSL made so much sense,” Camp said.  ‘”I look at where our employees are currently spending their tuition benefit dollars, and UMSL was definitely one of those places.  We’re in the same community,  and we serve the same people.”

Sharon Johnson, dean of the School of Social Work, said UMSL will pilot a live/virtual cohort for employees who have already completed their BSWs in the spring 2023 semester. It will give students a cohort experience, whether they live in the St. Louis region and can attend in-person classes or live outside the region and need to attend virtually.

“By having that option available for them, we hope that we will be able to influence more individuals who are not in the St. Louis region to take advantage of this resource, especially knowing how difficult it is and how great the need is in rural areas to have trained behavioral health specialists and social workers,” Johnson said. “We really want to make sure that we are contributing to this workforce and getting social workers and qualified individuals into those areas.”

The pilot program will offer a set curriculum with a family practice concentration focused on behavioral health. It’s designed to be completed in three years, with two courses each semester and a graduate field practicum, completed at the partner organization, in the summer of a student’s final year.

Interested employees who do not already have a BSW or who do not wish to participate in the live/virtual cohort still have the option to pursue their MSW in UMSL’s traditional program.

Under the terms of the agreement, BJC will directly pay employees’ tuition bills each semester, rather than requiring them to pay and get reimbursed.

“It helps remove one more barrier that could prevent someone from getting started,” Camp said. “Employees will use their tuition benefit to reimburse, so that it takes that stress of worrying, ‘Do I have to have the money?’ or ‘Do I have to have a loan in place?’ or whatever it might be.

“Whenever we have a high need area like this, we want to make sure we eliminate as many barriers as we can, and UMSL has been great in helping us figure that out.”

BJC Behavioral Health serves patients in the St. Louis region and has two locations in Farmington in southeast Missouri. Compass Health has offices in 29 counties stretching across the state of Missouri, including in St. Charles, Franklin, Lincoln and Warren Counties in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area.

UMSL envisioned building relationships like these last year when it launched its Office of Workforce Integration.

“We are an institution committed to developing talent to support industry needs and, most importantly, impact the lives of individuals by increasing access to opportunities and social mobility,” Small said. “UMSL is well-suited to serve as the model institution to prepare and educate the workforce. Through intentional relationships, we know that our students will thrive personally and professionally.”

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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik