By Gregg Fishman.
Rural counties often face unique challenges. For example, they might find it more difficult to educate and train a qualified workforce. That has been true in Amador County which has been struggling with two different but related issues. Amador does not have a Community College Campus and it is no coincidence that the County Behavioral Health Department could not find enough people with the right certification to work as mental health technicians.
Most people earn their certificate at a community college and with no campus in Amador, there was no place nearby for people to get the education and training they needed. Amador County was also noticing a “brain drain.” People who wanted a higher education, in any field, had to go someplace else to get it. Many who left didn’t come back. County leaders created a Community College Foundation to lay the groundwork for local campus, but that’s a long-term proposition and they had an immediate need.
With the availability of online learning, a physical college campus isn’t strictly necessary any more. But rural areas don’t always have high-speed internet available and studies have shown that people who attend an actual physical campus stay in school and finish their studies at higher rates than those who do not. So Amador County had two problems and they came up with a single solution that addressed them both.
The Behavioral Health Department and the Community College Foundation partnered to create a distance learning center that provides many of the benefits of a local college campus. Both organizations put in some initial funding and together they applied for a grant from the State. The Mental Health Services Act earmarks some funds to help people who have personal or family experience with mental health issues earn their certificate as mental health technicians.
Students gather at the center, meet with counselors and others who can help them enroll and stay in school. It’s close to public transit, has plenty of parking, and it was already wired with high-speed internet connections. Students can use computers at the center to do their actual coursework if they need to or they can still do their work from home if they want. And with help from the Behavioral Health department, the staff at the distance learning center has enrolled several students who meet the grant requirements to become mental health technicians.
One elegant solution is working to address both the lack of trained mental health professionals and the lack of a community college campus. Much of the credit goes to a former Amador County employee, Christa Thompson, who recognized the need, and conceived of the possible solution. It helps that Amador County Supervisor John Plasse also sits on the Community College Foundation Board.
In Amador County, finding a better way to train people to fill a local need in the mental health care field has multiple benefits. The newly certified mental health care workers provide care to people who need it and earn salaries that provide them and their families with a better lifestyle. And the distance learning center is helping to pave the way for students who currently don’t have access to a Community College.