It’s safe to say everything changed for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Behavioral Health Training Partnership during the past 18 months. Not only did the program completely change how it operated, it also dealt with growing demand for its services from behavioral health providers who sought increased assistance as their workloads increased.
The Behavioral Health Training Partnership began in 2009 with 16 counties in Northeast Wisconsin to provide training, consultation and support services for county human services professionals and other community organizations. Today, it works with 66 counties and one Native American tribe.
“We focus on providing foundational training to county crisis workers who are helping people at some of the hardest times in their lives,” said Behavioral Health Training Partnership Director Jessica Delzer. “We work with people from around the state discussing core values and best practices.”
Training falls into one of three main areas: crisis services overview, suicide and risk assessment and Wisconsin’s mental health laws.
Cori McFarlane, the deputy director of Health and Human Services in Door County, said the Behavioral Health Training Partnership provides an invaluable service to counties around the state.
“BHTP is a central hub for this critical training. Prior, counties had to do much on their own so this is more convenient and cost effective,” said McFarlane, who was part of the initial committee that launched the organization. “In small counties, we have small staffs so when we need to have continuing education — prior to the Behavioral Health Training Partnership — we needed to develop the curriculum, find the information and create and teach the course,” she said. “Having it delivered to us in a convenient way helps us make better use of our resources.”
The training isn’t limited to county employees. Partnering agencies, professionals and others, such as foster parents, also have been invited and come away with key learnings from the experience, McFarlane said.
Training offerings for behavioral health professionals is broad, ranging from courses on crisis debriefings to ethics. “We also do a post-training survey and ask what they would want more training in and try to address those requests,” Delzer said.
Since 2014, the Behavioral Health Training Partnership has been the recipient of the Collaborative Crisis Intervention Services for Youth (CCISY) Grant for the Northeast Region of Wisconsin. The grant’s purpose is to expand and improve crisis and other behavioral health resources to youth experiencing a crisis and/or at risk of suicide. The grant allowed the creation of some new tools, including identifying a universal suicide screening tool — the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale — that is used by all crisis staff.
Working with the Behavioral Health Training Partnership has helped Destination Zero Suicide Prevention Initiative in Fond du Lac live out its mission, said program coordinator Tammi Kohlman.
“We collaborated with BHTP to provide both in-person and virtual trainings and these were consistently positive experiences,” she said. “The staff communicated clearly and effectively, and assisted with every step of the process. They helped us decide which trainings to offer based on our intended audience and desired outcomes.”
Kohlman said the Behavioral Health Training Partnership was easy to work with and were flexible throughout the experience.
Discussing best practices is a vital part of the training process, Delzer said. Workers and volunteers learn the best way to approach a situation and help the person in need without causing the situation to escalate.
“It’s invaluable that we can offer our services to professionals who are out there on the frontlines delivering crisis care. The caregivers learn what’s needed (to do in a situation) and it benefits the community as a whole,” she said.
Prior to March 2020, the Behavioral Health Training Partnership provided its training through interactive classes and self-paced online courses. When the pandemic hit, the organization quickly shifted everything online.
“We did what was necessary to support our learners in the live, online training,” Delzer said. “It wasn’t easy, but we were able to make that switch. And in making the switch, we found we were able to reach a broader audience since no travel was involved to get to the trainings.”
Switching to online training changed Behavioral Health Training Partnership’s work and will affect it going into the future, she continued. “Some classes are better to have in person and we hope to get back to that when the pandemic is over.”
McFarlane said assistance from the Behavioral Health Training Partnership was vital during the past year as the county saw its workload increase as more people suffered from behavioral health issues and there was a greater demand for crisis intervention programs. “We’re just incredibly busy.”
The Behavioral Health Training Partnership also focused its attention on behavioral care workers to make sure they were handling the increased stress from the pandemic, Delzer said. “We talked about self-care for themselves and worked with supervisors so they can provide support to frontline workers.”
While the Behavioral Health Training Partnership receives funds from participating counties and a few state funds, grants and contracts are the primary resource for funding.
“Without grants, we wouldn’t be able to provide the high quality training sessions,” Delzer said. “The work we do is critical since we are training people who are making life and death decisions. They are out there helping people at the worst time of their lives.”
SELECT RESEARCH SPONSORS
UW-Green Bay’s Behavioral Health Training Partnership’s work is funded primarily by grants. The program has been sponsored by:
- Health and Human Services, Department of Collaborative Crisis Intervention Services to Youth (CCISY) — Sustainability, $301,672
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Collaborative Crisis Intervention Services to Youth, $152,312