Viterbo University Receives $1.3 Million HRSA Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program Grant

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

June 29, 2021

Contact Anthony Slaby at 608-796-3042 or


LA CROSSE, Wis. – Viterbo University has received a $1,326, 559 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to help increase the number of mental health professionals in integrated health settings in rural southwest Wisconsin.

This Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program grant will fund Viterbo’s Integrated Systems Training in Evidence-based Practices (InSTEP) initiative for the next four years. The InStep program seeks to recruit a diverse student population and workforce of professional counselors who will practice in high-need and underserved areas.

“Integrated behavioral health is an opportunity to provide well-trained teams to improve health and wellness outcomes,” said Deb Murray, director of Viterbo’s counselor education programs. “For example, individuals with chronic illness or diabetes or cardiac issues, can experience increased anxiety and/or depressive symptoms and struggle with motivation for the behavior changes that will provide them with a higher quality life. The counseling profession is prepared to facilitate motivation and behavior change and address substance use and other mental health issues.”

There is a great need for additional mental health counselors for minority and other underserved populations in rural areas. For example, rural residents have higher rates of chronic conditions, increased mortality rates, and lower life expectancies than urban populations and Wisconsin has some of the highest rates in the nation for adults with substance use disorder and serious thoughts of suicide. Diversity is increasing in rural Wisconsin, especially the Hispanic population. Monroe, Vernon, Jackson, and Juneau counties are considered high need areas for mental health according to HRSA. People in rural areas are more likely to seek out services in a primary care rather than mental health setting, so offering mental health services in an integrated setting with primary care helps reduce this barrier.

The goals of the InStep program are to 1) establish and strengthen relationships with community partners to provide increased access to quality behavioral health care in primary care settings 2) promote collaborative trainings that utilize team-based care models in integrated behavioral health/primary care settings, and 3) increase the supply of licensed mental health counselors in rural, underserved areas.