Arizona has a scarcity of mental health providers, ranking 47th in the nation for access to mental healthcare. At the same time, the America’s Health Rankings report shows that the number of adults experiencing frequent mental distress in the state increased 5 percent from 2017 to 2018.

To help adress the shortage, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) awarded $560,000 to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ (AzDHS) State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP).

The program will help recruit and retain healthcare professionals in areas with the greatest need, such as rural communities that have a shortage of mental health professionals. The program repays a healthcare provider’s qualifying educational loans in exchange for a two-year commitment to provide services in federally designated Health Profession Shortage Areas (HPSA) or Arizona Medically Underserved Areas (AzMUA). In a two-year period, BCBSAZ’s funds will help support five additional mental health providers and ensures the providers remain practicing in any of Arizona’s 176 mental HPSAs.

“More needs to be done in our state to provide Arizonans with the support and resources they need for their mental health,” said Dr. Jim Napoli, BCBSAZ Chief Medical Officer. “We believe it’s our responsibility to play an active role in increasing the number of qualified healthcare providers to not only improve lives, but to inspire health across the state.”

Even with the current $2 million invested to address the healthcare provider shortage in Arizona, more than 45 qualified professionals who apply for the SLRP are not able to receive funding. BCBSAZ is the first company to make a private donation to the SLRP that will increase the number of healthcare providers that participate each year.

“Since the state loan repayment program expanded in 2015 to include behavioral healthcare professionals, more communities around the state have improved access to critical behavioral health services,” said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “We sincerely thank Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona for this funding that will help to strengthen Arizona’s behavioral health system and provide more support to our communities.”

BCBSAZ’s Mobilize AZ for mental health initiative promotes positive mental health and saves lives by tackling the inadequacy of treatment resources in Arizona. Grant proposals are now being accepted through June 28, 2019, from Arizona-based organizations addressing the impact of mental health and distress. Details are available at mobilizeaz.com/grant-program.

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