New COPE Program to Increase Behavioral Health Workforce in High-Need Areas

Walsh University’s School of Behavioral and Health Sciences has been awarded a $1.9 million federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant for the creation of a program to address the unmet behavioral health needs in underserved populations of Northeast Ohio.

The new “Counselors & Occupational Therapists Professionally Engaged in the Community” (COPE) Program aims to increase the regional behavioral health workforce in high-need populations and high-demand areas through inter-professional education and training between two of Walsh’s master’s level programs, Occupational Therapy (OT) and Counseling & Human Development (CHD). This is the second HRSA federal grant awarded to Walsh since the 2015 Byers School of Nursing grant to support FNP clinical training.

The four-year grant will enhance both CHD and OT programs through inter-professional education and training for students, faculty, and clinical supervisors.  The HRSA application was led by Grant Project Co-Directors Dr. Michele Tilstra, Clinical Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy, and Dr. Tiffany Peets, Associate Professor, Coordinator of Clinical Mental Health Professional Practice.

“With this HRSA grant, Walsh will be able to provide additional wrap-around services in our community for areas that are traditionally underserved. We hope our efforts will serve as an example for how Occupational Therapy and Counseling can work together to address our community’s mental health needs,” said Dr. Tilstra. “Counseling helps people explore ways to process traumas and develop strategies to cope with life stressors. OT puts those strategies to work focusing on improving independence and functional participation in meaningful daily activities. We see this partnership as a natural collaboration in the community and clinical settings.” 

The COPE Program will:

  • Expand experiential training for both OT and CHD programs (especially for high-need populations and in-high demand areas)
  • Introduce relevant topics and skill sets necessary to address unmet needs of the service population (e.g., telehealth, cultural competency, violence, and distance-learning technology),
  • Reduce the financial burden through stipends for students who are committed to addressing the behavioral health needs for high-need populations and in high-demand areas. Through the grant, 29 stipends will be awarded to eligible OT and CHD students serving at clinical training sites in high-need areas. 
  • Improve health outcomes for the regional population of residents with behavioral health disorders.

An agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HRSA is the primary Federal agency for improving access to health care by strengthening the health care workforce, building healthy communities and achieving health equity.