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Increasing The Psychiatric Mental Health Workforce in Eastern Oregon

(Photo Credit: John Valls/HOWTO)

On March 1st, Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center (NEOAHEC) was awarded a Healthy Oregon Workforce Training Opportunity (HOWTO) grant of nearly $1 million to increase the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) workforce in eastern Oregon.

The new HOWTO grant program, administered under the direction of the Oregon Health Policy Board in partnership with the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), selected this project as one of its first awardees.

Partnership Holds Key to Success

There is a belief that has been adopted in eastern Oregon, and chartered by Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. (GOBHI), that no singular healthcare entity can improve the system of care in isolation, so dynamic partnerships with friends and neighbors across the healthcare universe have been forged.

Eastern Oregon has developed a common voice around the need for highly trained, graduate educated mental health providers. GOBHI, the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization (EOCCO), and NEOAHEC quickly joined together to find a solution to the critical shortage of advanced practice mental health providers. The OHSU School of Nursing held the final key to providing graduate level education for students in our rural and geographically isolated region.

This project innovatively brought together four organizations in partnership to expand the OHSU PMHNP program to identify, educate, and retain a mental health workforce in eastern Oregon.

Meredith Lair, executive director at NEOAHEC and principal investigator on this grant, believes that “by convening workforce, community, and education, and targeting individuals already embedded in the region, this project will result in a collective impact that provides high quality mental health workforce that is in acute need in the region.”

Providing Support for Students

Recruitment and support for qualified students rooted in eastern Oregon is the cornerstone of this project. Scholarships provided through this grant, other related grants and state incentive and scholarship programs will be available. These financial incentives will give students the opportunity to take a break from their current job to pursue an advanced practice nursing degree while remaining in their community to learn without the burden of excessive debt.

PMHNP Admission Requirements:


(Photo Credit: John Valls/HOWTO)

Critical Workforce Issue

Any map, report, or conversation with a healthcare provider only affirms that access to healthcare workforce, and more specifically access to mental health workforce, is not just a problem in eastern Oregon. Critical workforce issues exist statewide with no short-term solution to address the need for professionals who can provide the complex and irreplaceable services in communities.

Nurses already possess the skills required to care for individuals with mental health illness. This investment from the HOWTO grant program to support nurses to become PMHNPs and establish a scope of practice, including prescribing privileges, makes them ideal mental health generalists for rural Oregon.

Support for Job Placement

NEOAHEC will convene a meeting of healthcare professional employers and representing organizations within the region in order to develop a plan for supporting and recruiting students post-graduation into practice at sites in eastern Oregon. Students will be provided with ongoing information about employment opportunities following admission into the PMHNP program.

Learn More

If you are interested in learning more about this program of study or you are an employer interested in hosting an information session, please contact Meredith Lair at mlair@neoahec.org.