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Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

Blue Shield Provides $500K to Develop Mental Health Workforce

Blue Shield of California dedicated $500,000 to support local mental health organizations such as National Alliance on Mental Illness in San Diego (NAMI San Diego) to develop a more diverse workforce.

As part of Blue Shield’s BlueSky initative and in partnership with the Health Career Connection’s (HCC) summer internship program they are helping young people from disadvantaged or underrepresented backgrounds explore careers in mental healthcare.

By creating these career pathways, the groups aim to develop a future of diverse mental and behavioral health professionals, who can provide culturally affirming services for members of the BIPOC community (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color).

For instance, a 2018 report by the University of California, San Francisco analyzed California’s behavioral health workforce and found that “African-Americans and Latinos are underrepresented among psychiatrists and psychologists relative to California’s population; and Latinos are also underrepresented among counselors and clinical social workers.”

Blue Shield’s Executive Director, Mind Body Medicine – Behavioral Health, Jennifer Christian-Herman, Ph.D. explained that financial challenges are one of the many reasons why the workforce is less diverse. This funding helps tackle that barrier to entry especially during a time when the need for mental healthcare has been amplified by the pandemic and fight for racial justice.

“However, we understand that there is not a level playing field for diverse individuals when pursuing a career in mental health care,” Christian-Herman said. “We look forward to working with HCC to provide this year’s interns with a pathway to further their careers and ultimately increase the quality of mental health care for communities of color.”

Blue Shield of California has more than 7,500 employees and since joining Blue Shield this year, Christian-Herman and her team are developing the BlueSky initiative, a multi-year effort to enhance access, awareness, and advocacy for youth mental health supports.

Investing in the Future

NAMI San Diego CEO, Cathryn Nacario, RN, MHA said that this funding supports NAMI’s five, paid interns who are engaging in hands-on work helping individuals with mental illness experiencing homelessness, developing a technology platform for research and services, as well as outreach through the organization’s helpline.

“That’s one thing we wanted to show the interns — there are so many different avenues in the behavioral health system to be able to find what’s your love, what’s your passion,” Nacario said.

Founded in 1978 by family members of people with mental illness, NAMI San Diego is a non-profit organization with 103 employees. The organization connects San Diegans in need to wrap-around services at no cost. They also contract work with the County of San Diego to support, educate and advocate for people experiencing mental illness in our community.

Nacario, who also serves as the president of the Mental Health Contractors Association in San Diego, acknowledged that amid the vital work of behavioral health professionals, we are in a workforce crisis. According to Health Resources & Services Administration data, nearly 90% of California counties are experiencing a shortage of mental health professionals.

Some of the challenges that make entering the mental healthcare profession so challenging include the cost of higher education degrees and clinical training hours required to land a job.

Facilitating the Conversation

The world was shocked when USA gymnastics gold-medalist Simone Biles announced that she would not compete in her Olympic events due to her mental health not being 100 percent. Recently, public figures and athletes such as Biles have used their platform to break the stigma and open the conversation about mental health.

Part of breaking down the stigma means treating a person’s mental health condition, just as a physical condition and having structural access to resources, said Nacario. Christian-Herman added that broadening our definition of mental health tools by starting in classrooms and giving people the language to discuss these issues early is critical.

One way NAMI has facilitated the conversation in San Diego is by partnering with local high schools to conduct depression screenings in addition to the physical fitness assessments that student-athletes need to participate in sports.

“There is no health without mental health because when you have a mental health crisis it turns into physical symptoms, injuries can happen, illness can happen,” Nacario said. “That holistic approach is really important. We have to look at the physical, the psychological and the spiritual component of mental wellness.”

Blue Shield of California


CEO: Paul Markovich

HEADQUARTERS: Oakland, Calif.

BUSINESS: Healthcare; nonprofit health plan, independent member of the Blue Shield Association with over 4.5 million members.

EMPLOYEES: 7,500+ employees

WEBSITE: blueshieldca.com

REVENUE: More than $21 billion in annual revenue

NOTABLE: The company has contributed more than $150 million to Blue Shield of California Foundation in the last four years to have an impact on California communities.

CONTACT: (510) 607-2000

NAMI San Diego


CEO: Cathryn Nacario


BUSINESS: Nonprofit advocating, educating and supporting people with mental illness throughout San Diego and Imperial County


WEBSITE: namisandiego.org

REVENUE: $7.95 million (2019)

NOTABLE: Conducted a pilot program that screened over 650 student-athletes at a local high school for depression to address both their physical and mental health

CONTACT: (858) 634-6580


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