Viterbo receives $1.3 million federal grant for behavioral health training

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Viterbo University will have some federal support as it educates its students on how to provide behavior health services.

Viterbo has received a $1,326,559 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to help bump up the number of mental health professionals in integrated health settings in rural Wisconsin.

This Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program grant will fund Viterbo’s Integrated Systems Training in Evidence-based Practices (InSTEP) initiative for the next four years. The InStep program recruits a diverse population of students to build a workforce of professional counselors who will practice in underserved areas.

“Integrated behavioral health is an opportunity to provide well-trained teams to improve health and wellness outcomes,” said Deb Murray, director of Viterbo’s counselor education programs. “For example, individuals with chronic illness or diabetes or cardiac issues, can experience increased anxiety and/or depressive symptoms and struggle with motivation for the behavior changes that will provide them with a higher quality life. The counseling profession is prepared to facilitate motivation and behavior change and address substance use and other mental health issues.”

The program will serve rural residents, who have higher rates of chronic conditions, increased mortality rates and lower life expectancies than residents of urban areas. Wisconsin has some of the highest rates in the nation for adults with substance use disorder and serious thoughts of suicide.

Diversity is increasing in rural Wisconsin, especially the Hispanic population. Monroe, Vernon, Jackson, and Juneau counties are considered high need areas for mental health according to HRSA.