$38 Million Set of Gifts From Ballmer Group to Address Behavioral Health Crisis

Written by Karen L. Bystrom
May 21, 2021

The University of Washington announced that the School of Social Work and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and the Behavioral Health Institute at Harborview Medical Center are part of a transformational $38 million set of gifts from Ballmer Group to support a broad, collaborative response to the state’s behavioral health crisis.

Seattle University is one of a number of colleges and universities in the state participating in this effort through graduate student financial assistance provided by the Ballmer Group gifts. The grants will support students in multiple accredited graduate programs in mental health counseling and social work in our state, including Seattle U’s Master of Social Work; Master of Arts in Couples and Family Therapy; and Master of Education in Counseling, Clinical Mental Health.

“We are very proud to be among the colleges and universities who will be part of this collaborative response to Washington state’s behavioral health crisis,” said Seattle University Provost Shane P. Martin. “This effort aligns perfectly with Seattle University’s commitment to educating the whole person, to professional formation and to empowering leaders for a just and humane world."

“This is a transformational moment in developing the Behavioral Health Workforce in our state and I am grateful that our students are included,” said Dr. David V. Powers, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences. “We thank the Ballmer Group for their generosity and the University of Washington for their leadership.”

 “The SU Master of Social Work program specializes in social justice-focused and community-based advanced clinical social work education. As our mission is to advance equity in access to excellent care, our program is perfectly positioned to play a key role in transforming our statewide behavioral health system,” said Dr. Hye-Kyung Kang, Director of the MSW program and Chair of Social Work. “This is an extraordinary opportunity to support talented, passionate students in achieving their goals to make real impact in their communities while relieving them of debt as they move into their careers.”

 “We prepare our graduates to clinically heal and empower individuals and relationships from intersecting social locations – ethnicities, gender identities, faith traditions,” said Dr. Christie Eppler, Director of the Master of Arts in Couples and Family Therapy program. “As we transition to our two-year degree, this is an exciting opportunity to make a difference in behavioral health around the state.”

From the announcement:

The UW School of Social Work will coordinate a major component of Ballmer Group’s investment, $24.8 million designed to expand the diversity and numbers of well-prepared, debt-relieved students graduating from the state’s master’s programs in social work and mental health counseling who go on to work in community-based behavioral health programs. These programs serve individuals and families who face poverty and severe, long-term mental health or substance-use challenges.

More than 400 graduate students from approximately 13 colleges and universities across the state will receive more than $21 million in financial assistance over the next five years, supporting a graduate- level clinical education that, for many, would not otherwise be financially feasible.

Participating graduate students will receive grants to offset the high costs of graduate education in return for committing to work for three years in the behavioral health system. Participating graduate schools will partner closely with agencies to design clinical education tailored to meeting the needs of clients, strengthen student internships, and provide career placement and mentoring to support sustained careers in behavioral health services.

The gifts aim to address the state of Washington’s serious workforce shortage in the community behavioral health system, in large part by supporting statewide education and training innovations at partner institutions developed through the University of Washington. The new grants come on the heels of Gov. Jay Inslee’s historic behavioral health bill signing Thursday which recognized the severity of the crisis and celebrated new investments.

Washington state currently ranks among the lowest in the nation in serving people with mental health challenges. The needs are vast and far-reaching, with Washingtonians experiencing common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, serious and persistent disorders such as schizophrenia, or addiction to alcohol or other substances. In addition, nearly a quarter of adults with a mental illness reported not being able to access care, which is only being exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

The state Legislature responded to the urgent need during its recently completed session with unprecedented investments in Washington’s behavioral health system. The Legislature’s commitments included $200.5 million for a new 150-bed behavioral health teaching facility on UW Medical

Center’s Northwest campus, in addition to an expanded psychiatry residency program and a statewide 24/7 psychiatric consultation program. Legislators also designated nearly $170 million to support community behavior health providers, mobile crisis response teams throughout the state, intensive case management and Homeless Outreach Stabilization, and one-time relief to ease the financial impact of COVID on providers.

Ballmer Group’s gifts will complement these investments through innovative and transformational approaches to growing and strengthening the state’s behavioral health workforce.

“The behavioral health crisis is all too real, and while it affects everyone in our state, this reality is compounded for communities of color. The same inequities that plague every American institution apply to our behavioral health system, which is designed to cater to wealthy white people. Further complications of stigma, cost, and a fundamental lack of system capacity to meet the growing need are woven throughout our current behavioral health infrastructure,” said Connie Ballmer, co-founder of Ballmer Group. “That’s why we were proud to partner with the University of Washington, state leaders, providers to lay a foundation for shifting our system through addressing workforce capacity, access and equity.”

Read the full release here.