Licensed mental health professionals who are living and practicing in underserved communities across the state will be eligible to apply for a new Mental Health Loan Repayment program.
The program, which was approved by the West Virginia Legislature and Gov. Jim Justice in 2019, and funded this year, provides money to cover student loan debt and to help retain those workers where they are crucially needed.
“We are tremendously grateful to be able to provide this vital financial aid, which will help retain critically needed mental health providers in historically underserved areas of the state,” said West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Sarah Armstrong Tucker.
Nearly all of West Virginia’s counties are considered underserved for mental health needs, according to the Health Resources Service Administration. The only counties in West Virginia that do not have a shortage are Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Monongalia and Putnam.
Up to 33 professionals, including social workers, licensed counselors, marriage and family therapists, and master’s and doctoral clinical psychologists, will be considered every year for a $10,000 award to help with student loan debt.
Every three years, a recipient can reapply.
“Mental health needs are acute in West Virginia, particularly in some of our most isolated and rural areas,” Tucker said. “By offering currently practicing mental health providers this incentive to stay, we’re doing more than we ever have to strengthen West Virginians’ access to the services they need.”
Recipients will be selected through a competitive application process, according to the HEPC. Applicants must meet a number of requirements.
They must have educational debt in an amount equal to or exceeding the proposed award amount, be employed full-time or part-time at an eligible practice site, provide individual and group therapy or counseling for a majority of their practice, and be a West Virginia resident. They must also be a graduate of an accredited program at an institution of higher education, and obtained a degree preparing them for licensure and is currently licensed in West Virginia.
More than $330,000 was awarded by the state legislature for this program in its first year.