Issue 5: Rural Human Services Worker Program
Goal: Provide greater support, recognition and funding for the Rural Human Services System Program (RHSSP).
The Rural Human Services System Project began in 1992 as a way to increase the number of rural communities with resident, appropriately trained, generalist human service providers. It offers grants to qualified agencies, including Native Health Corporations and non-profit organizations, to hire, train and supervise village-based human service workers. Currently, about 50 Alaska villages have village-based human service workers wholly or parted supported with RHSSP grant funds.
The Rural Human Services System Project includes both educational and direct service components. For the educational component, the RHSSP worked closely with the University of Alaska to develop a training program which is fully accredited, articulates with more advanced degree programs and incorporates both Native and Western healing skills and knowledge. The 30-credit program is guided by a statewide Alaska Native Coordinating Council and is taught through both the Interior-Aleutian (based in Fairbanks) and Kuskokwim campuses of the College of Rural Alaska.
For the direct services component, Rural Human Services System Project village workers are providing a broad range of prevention, treatment and aftercare services. Each community defines and prioritizes its unique service needs; the specific array of RHSSP services therefore varies from community to community.
By all measures, the Rural Human Services System Project is successful. Agencies employing RHSSP trained village workers report that the village staff are effectively intervening in behavioral health emergencies and reducing the number of crisis transports outside the community. In addition, increasing numbers of the RHSSP training program graduates are choosing to continue their education by pursing AA, BA and MA degrees. Partly due to this heightened interest, several University programs are coordinating to make it easier for rural Alaskans to pursue advanced degrees in social work, psychology and human services without needing to leave their communities for extended periods.
Despite this track record of success, there are still many limitations associated with the Rural Human Services System Project program. These limitations include: inadequate funds to serve more communities through RHSSP workers; lack of funds to address the ongoing training and supervision needs of the village workers; difficulties in establishing a career ladder for RHSSP workers and the need for greater peer support for the village human service workers. To adequately address the human service needs in rural Alaska, there is a need to build upon the successes of the RHSSP and address current program deficiencies.
151. Establish a joint mental health and substance abuse advisory process to assist with planning and policy development for the Rural Human Services System Project.
Responsible party: Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Alaska Mental Health Board, Division of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Governor's Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, University of Alaska
152. Provide funding to increase the number of communities served through the Rural Human Services System Project program; an emphasis should be placed on funding strategies which promote greater self-sufficiency through such means as Indian Health Service Medicaid billings.
153. Provide funding designated specifically to address the ongoing training needs of Rural Human Services System Project village workers; current funding is limited to the basic certification training.
154. Ensure that Rural Human Services workers have adequate supervision by an appropriate mental health professional who has experience in long distance supervision.
155. Provide funding for a Rural Human Services System Project conference to address such issues as: identifying current program needs, promoting alternative revenue sources, sharing program successes and developing educational and career advancement.
Responsible party (actions 2-5): Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Alaska Mental Health Board, Governor's Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
156. Add a mental health presence to the current University efforts to expand opportunities for rural residents to obtain human service and/or social work degrees without relocating to urban settings.
Responsible party: Division of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Alaska Mental Health Board, Rural Alaska Mental Health Directors Association, University of Alaska
157. Encourage agencies that employ Rural Human Services System Project village workers to develop career ladders and other forms of career advancement for the RHSSP workers.
Responsible party: Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse
158. Support the development of the Professional Association of Rural Counselors of Alaska; the group is being formed to provide peer support for Rural Human Services System Project program graduates and to develop standards and procedures for rural counselor certification.
Responsible party: Governor's Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Alaska Mental Health Board, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
159. Collect and analyze data on the location, training and tasks of paraprofessional human service workers in rural Alaska to explore opportunities for cross training, joint supervision and efforts to avoid duplication of services.
Responsible party: University of Alaska Department of Social Work, Alaska Mental Health Board