It’s hard to believe how quickly 2021 is flying by. Here we are in October with fall settling in around us and winter looming in the not-so-distant future. I find myself thinking back on the last nine months and feel an immense amount of pride in our team and organization. At the same time, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling some level of despair due to the behavioral health crisis and workforce shortages we are facing in Montana.
Despite the despair, I choose to focus on the incredible work our team is doing and the opportunities ahead of us.
The workforce shortage continues to be a challenge that we face daily. Thanks to tremendous efforts by our Chief Operating Officer Leighann Knight, our Chief Financial Officer Geri Francisco-Wyant, and our leadership team, we have maintained a forward-thinking and innovative approach to address the issues we face. Here are a few examples of our investments in the workforce: We have increased our base pay and gave raises to existing front-line employees— despite inadequate funding from the state. We continue to offer sign-on and referral bonuses. We are actively seeking partnerships with institutions of higher education across the state to not only recruit new employees but to help foster and grow awareness and interest in the field we work in.
As we continue to combat the workforce crisis, one hindrance for our employees is the availability of childcare. I have been advocating on behalf of AWARE and in collaboration with others in the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana (BHAM) to get funding to help ease the financial strain that childcare causes our employees. I am happy to see that the Department of Public Health and Human Services proposed $5.5 million to provide temporary financial assistance. The funds will benefit parents who work in high-demand, hard-to-fill occupations in healthcare, behavioral health, disability services and long-term care settings, with an emphasis on providers who deliver a significant percentage of Montana Medicaid services.
I am particularly proud that our advocacy resulted in not only behavioral health workers but also disability services workers being included in the eligibility. This is a huge accomplishment and should directly benefit many AWARE team members. That said, we intend to do more.
The fact of the matter is, when people don’t have quality, affordable childcare, they choose to stay home or choose careers in other industries instead of working and helping people like the 4,100 Montanans we serve each year.
In 2020, thanks to a very generous donation, we were able to pilot a scholarship fund idea. It provided nearly 100 employees with $500 scholarships to help ease the burden of childcare expenses. It was an overwhelming success! We have determined that now is the time to dedicate efforts to fund this as an ongoing program. Our team is pursuing ARPA funding, grants and private donations to support this. If you have the ability to make a tax-deductible donation to support the AWARE Employee Childcare Assistance Scholarship fund, please contact Brynn Molloy at bmolloy@Aware-inc.org.
Aside from our struggles with workforce shortages, we have been fortunate enough to have other opportunities present themselves over the course of the past year. As noted in the September issue of INK, Diane Black has been named the Service Director for our Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) service line. While ABA is not new to AWARE, the dedicated service line is. We are building a phenomenal team across the state and are eager to provide access to this service in both rural and urban communities.
In July, AWARE was awarded the SDMI Case Management contract by the State of Montana. This is no small undertaking, and the fact that AWARE is now the provider for the state is a testament to the people we have on our team and the work we do. AWARE is welcoming approximately 500 new clients into our care. Under the direction of Jake Henderson, the SDMI Case Management team is working with clients and providers to make the transition. We recognize that change isn’t always easy, nor does it happen overnight, particularly a change that involves as many parties as this one. Our team is committed to working through the logistics and eager to provide quality care to those who need it most.
It is with great excitement and pride that I share news that we received last week. AWARE has been awarded $4.5 million in grant funding from SAMHSA for a period of two years to launch a Family Assertive Care & Treatment (FACT) model in Montana. This model of care will expand preventative and mental health services for youth and families in Montana. It was a team effort to strategize and formulate this idea and put the proposal together. This project serves as another example of the forward-thinking and innovative ways we are working to best serve the people of Montana. The recognition from SAMHSA in form of this award only solidifies what I already know – AWARE is a leader in Montana. We will share more about this project and award in an upcoming issue of INK.
Finally, I’m thrilled to share with all of you that we have partnered with William Henry to provide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training for our team. We’ve learned much and been empowered by his training so far that we have decided to partner with Mr. Henry and pursue leadership training opportunities for AWARE employees. I am immensely proud of our leadership team and our commitment to building a culture that fosters growth and leadership. Even more so, I am proud that we are dedicated to doing the work to listen and learn to support a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization.
What I’ve shared in this letter is by no means inclusive of the opportunities we have underway and in front of us. What I’ve shared and the stories you’ll read in this issue of INK are only a small sampling of the things that inspire me and frankly, I hope serve to inspire you too.
As always, thank you for all you do for AWARE. Our mission is to help people live independent lives and you play a part in helping us bring that mission to life.
With much gratitude,
Matt Bugni – AWARE CEO