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CU Anschutz Medical Campus and the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration Announce Initiative to Increase Diversity in the Behavioral Health Workforce

Education, trainings and mentorships will address Colorado's shortages in the workforce

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Written by Julia Milzer on May 17, 2023
What You Need To Know

CU Anschutz has developed a structured and culturally responsive program for students at six Colorado high schools, including youth living in rural, suburban and urban locations, to learn about behavioral health and help drive interest in behavioral health careers. The program will start in high schools beginning in the fall of 2023.

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (CU Anschutz), in partnership with the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration (BHA), launched the Hummingbird Initiative today, a program that aims to increase diversity in the state’s behavioral health workforce. 

Led by experts at CU Anschutz, the program will address the shortage of professionals and need for diversity in the behavioral health workforce by providing administrative, programmatic and professional support to Colorado high school youth. The initiative will remove barriers to entering the behavioral health workforce and provide support that might not otherwise be available to youth.

“The Hummingbird Initiative is a multi-faceted initiative seeking to eliminate social and structural challenges that prevent youth from entering the behavioral health workforce,” said Lilia Cervantes, MD, associate professor in the Department of Medicine at CU Anschutz, who will help lead the program.

The program will be offered at six schools

CU Anschutz has developed a structured and culturally responsive pathway for students at six Colorado high schools, including youth living in rural, suburban and urban locations, to learn about behavioral health and help drive interest in behavioral health careers. 

The Hummingbird Initiative will focus on the following key priorities, among others: 

  • Education and employment: Offer certifications, entry-level employment and educational placements for teens moving through the Hummingbird pipeline.  
  • Wrap-around services: Provide resources to students with social needs as well as address individual mental health challenges.
  • Mentorship: Provide structured advice from professionals on pursuing behavioral health careers as well as peer mentorship and school-based support.
  • Workforce development: Provide a roadmap for students to get stacking degrees (i.e., certification followed by associates and bachelors). This initiative will be through the CU Anschutz health science programs and community behavioral health programs. Every student in the Hummingbird Initiative will also have the opportunity to enroll in a certified nurse assistant (CNA), medical assistant (MA) or emergency medical technician (EMT) program, each of which is often required for entry level positions in behavioral health. Further, other trainings will be offered to students, such as Mental Health First Aid, Trauma-Informed Care, Substance Use Disorders and Opioid Addiction and Narcan Use.

“By providing early exposure, mentorship programs, trainings and so much more for Colorado’s teens, we will increase the possibility of a more diverse workforce. Further, this will reduce the academic achievement gap in high school to propel students into pursuing careers in the behavioral health field,” said Katie Bakes, MD, an emergency physician at the Rocky Mountain Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who will also work on the initiative. 

What is behavioral health?

The American Medical Association defines behavioral health generally as referring to “mental health and substance use disorders, life stressors and crises, and stress-related physical symptoms. Behavioral health care refers to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of those conditions."

The initiative was made possible by the BHA.

“The BHA is committed to strengthening and diversifying the behavioral health workforce, and one of the best ways we can do that is by inviting our emerging workforce to step up and step in. We are thrilled to partner with CU Anschutz to expand opportunities for greater numbers of youth throughout the state and develop future providers,” said Wendy Simmerman, BHA’s Director of Workforce Development.  

The BHA will provide $4.2 million from Fiscal Year 2023 through Fiscal Year 2025 in behavioral health career pipeline funding to the Hummingbird Initiative, which aims to strengthen Colorado’s behavioral health workforce, as directed by Senate Bill 22-181. This funding comes from Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds appropriated to the BHA from Senate Bill 22-181 and SAMHSA Supplemental Mental Health and Substance Use Block Grant funds.

Modeled after a successful program 

The Hummingbird Initiative is modeled after a national coalition called FACES for the Future. CU Anschutz implemented this program, calling it Denver FACES, at Manual High School in fall of 2017. Since starting Denver FACES, all students participating in the program at Manual High School have graduated, compared to an overall school graduation rate of 69%. At the time of graduation, over 90% of participants intend to pursue a career in the health profession and continue directly into post-secondary pathways, including college, certification programs or employment.

This program also aligns with the successful longtime efforts of CU Anschutz, providing early exposure and pathway programming to diverse and BIPOC youth (Black Indigenous People of Color) led by Dominic Martinez, EdD, assistant vice chancellor for the Office of Education Initiatives and Career Pathways.

“This initiative addresses socioeconomic challenges that have stalled progress in creating a more diverse behavioral health workforce. In Colorado and across the country, there’s a significant disparity and lack of representation in this field. We’re not only providing a better chance for a more diverse future but we’re also providing mental health services to a population less likely to have access,” said Regina Richards, PhD, MSW, vice chancellor at CU Anschutz’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement. 

The program will start in high schools beginning in the fall of 2023 and will include an application process for students and in-classroom teaching and trainings to set students up for success in future healthcare careers.

“Growing up, I didn’t see healthcare providers that looked like me. This program is meaningful because I see a reflection of myself in the students,” said Chawtana Edwards, FACES for the Future Denver Program Manager.

Rachel Davis, MD, associate professor at the CU Department of Psychiatry, adds, “I’m very excited about this initiative because I grew up in rural Southeastern Colorado and my experience as a CNA and EMT in my town of 800 people introduced me to medicine and set me down the path of ultimately becoming a psychiatrist." 

About the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is a world-class medical destination at the forefront of transformative science, medicine, education and patient care. The campus encompasses the University of Colorado health professional schools, more than 60 centers and institutes and two nationally ranked independent hospitals - UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital and Children's Hospital Colorado - that treat more than two million adult and pediatric patients each year. Innovative, interconnected and highly collaborative, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus delivers life-changing treatments, patient care and professional training and conducts world-renowned research fueled by over $690 million in research grants. For more information, visit www.cuanschutz.edu.

About the Behavioral Health Administration

The Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) is a new cabinet member-led agency within the State of Colorado, housed within the Department of Human Services and is designed to be the single entity responsible for driving coordination and collaboration across state agencies to address behavioral health needs. Find us online at https://bha.colorado.gov/ or follow us on social media at @BHAConnect.

Featured Experts
Staff Mention

Regina Richards, PhD, MSW

Staff Mention

Lilia Cervantes, MD