A great way to give the lowest-paid workers a leg up on the advancement ladder

Let’s start with the hamster wheel of impossibilities affecting millions of workers across the United States. 

To get a promotion or a salary increase you need to get more education, experience, and skills.

To get more education, you need money.

If you get paid minimum wage, or close to it, you often cannot find that money and so you cannot access the education needed to make more of it. 

Round and round and round. Circles.

Realizing how deeply this challenge affected many of their staff, Behavioral Health Network (BHN), a provider of behavioral health services for adults, children, and families in Western Massachusetts and the Boston area, decided they would launch a number of programs to help their staff access education and professional development training. 

One of these initiatives is a financial resource known as the Staff Excellence Fund which will offer employees funding for education and professional training.

Picture of direct care worker with client from Canva Pro.

BHN employs over 2600 people and most of them are direct care staff—which includes those who provide residential or community support roles like residential care workers, community health workers, and access navigators. 

These are some of the lowest-paid jobs in healthcare.

Despite the fact that many direct care workers sign up with excellent skills for this work and/or lived experience, they often still need to complete their high school equivalency associate’s or bachelor’s degrees to qualify for higher-paid positions in the community behavioral health industry. 

Katherine Mague, Senior VP at BHN, said that this puts them at a tremendous disadvantage in terms of workplace advancement since many regulators and funders require a formalized education for certain positions in this field.

She also said that since the pay rates in community behavioral health are very low, getting a recognized qualification is important as it helps direct care workers move into higher salary brackets. 

“There’s a significant social justice gap there with disproportionate numbers of our direct care staff being people of color and these are at our lowest paid tiers. That’s partly a BHN thing. It’s partly a regulatory thing. It’s partly an American culture thing in terms of the disparity of opportunity in our country.”

She said that all these reasons came together to make it imperative for BHN to do something. “So it’s for lots of reasons really important that we invest in our staff’s professional development, we want them to use their skills, bring their lived experiences to their work and grow professionally with whatever kind of formal or informal education and training would benefit their career path.”

BHN has a goal of raising $5 Million for the fund and the company contributed the first $2 Million from its operating surplus. They have been working on hitting the target for the last two years and have raised another $500,000 in donations.

The fund will be structured as an endowment so that it can continue to benefit BHN staff for the foreseeable future. Team members can apply for funds for any kind of professional training or educational opportunity.

The money can be used to pay for actual training, licensing fees, or auxiliary expenses that go along with training. These include costs for childcare while in class, books, and transportation.

BHN has partnered with the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts to manage the fund.  “We decided to go with the Community Foundation because of their community mission and their accessibility and service to the community,” explained Mague.

Members of staff have already started benefitting from the fund.

Photos from left to right: Valrie, Coralys, Drake. Courtesy of BHN.

Coralys, a Clinical Psychologist with the BHN Juvenile Court Clinic who received support for her licensing fees and exams said the fund made her feel supported.

Drake, a Counselor and Case Manager with BHN said he would have not found it in him to ask for financial assistance, but the fund has opened new doors for him, “It was hard for me to ask for financial assistance (my pride), but by having the support available and [its use] encouraged, I plan to continue my career at BHN and continue my education. I am only 62 credits away from obtaining my bachelor’s degree. This possibility was far-fetched from my reality before I became an employee at BHN, and for this, I will be forever indebted and grateful.”

And from Valrie, a counselor at BHN, “The forgivable loan that I received from the Staff Excellence Fund helped me focus on my education and not worry about the financial part of the program. This continuing education allows me to do my job more effectively.”

To support BHN’s Staff Excellence Fund, visit here.