OLYMPIA — Programs to recruit and train behavioral and mental health professionals could receive $1.1 million in the next fiscal year under proposed legislation.

Washington has two health education centers that recruit students from rural and underserved communities into health professions. These centers are located at Eastern Washington University and Whatcom Community College and are funded by the state Department of Health and the University of Washington.

These education centers run programs including high school paid internships and rural health centers, science sleepovers for middle school students to learn about health professions, and continuing education sessions for working health professionals.

Senate Bill 5633, sponsored by Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, would designate $1.1 million this fiscal year from the Department of Health to the centers.

“We can talk all day long about the need to put additional resources into our schools, into our communities, but if we don’t have those individuals that are trained and ready to go into those communities, we are really stuck,” said Brown. “This bill is just going to go a little ways to trying and get more people who are qualified in to our communities.”

This money would be used for expansions in programs like Mental Health First Aid trainings, continuing education courses, rural immersion programs, and Scrubs Camp to expose high school students to health career opportunities. The $1.1 million figure is based on area health education center expansion need estimates.

Seth Dawson from the Washington State Psychiatric Association testified in support of the bill, saying one in five Americans have some type of mental health condition.

“So the demand is rising, the severity is rising and yet the number of health care professionals is barely holding steady, in contrast,” said Dawson.

According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, nationally there will be a shortage of more than 250,000 mental and behavioral health workers by 2025.

The centers receive grants of about $70,000 annually from the University of Washington and the center at Eastern Washington University receives additional federal and private grants for research and development.

Since 2011, the state Department of Health has been reducing funding to the centers. The programs received $408,000 in 2016 and $390,000 in 2017, according to Department of Health documents. These reductions came with the acknowledgement that it would hurt the recruitment efforts of the centers.

This large increase in funding for the 2019 fiscal year would be part of the legislature’s behavioral and mental health package to address the growing crisis in the state.

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