Friday, April 12, 2024

Kittitas Co. funding will help CWU reopen mental health clinic

ELLENSBURG — The Kittitas County Board of Commissioners and Central Washington University have entered into a partnership that will reinstate critical mental health services for local youths over the next two years.

The Kittitas County Commissioners recently agreed to earmark funds generated through the county’s one-tenth of 1% Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Tax to the CWU Department of Psychology in 2024-25 so it can reopen the Community Counseling and Psychological Assessment Center (CCPAC) on the Ellensburg campus.

In total, the county will commit $333,392 to CWU over the next two years to pay for staffing and support resources to launch the clinic, including counseling technology and materials. The CCPAC, which closed in late 2022, is scheduled to reopen by the end of March. It will serve patients between the ages of 11-17 who have been referred by the local school district.

“It’s exciting to see entities like Kittitas County and Central Washington University come together to provide services to local youth who are in need of mental health support,” said Commissioner Brett Wachsmith, who helped facilitate the funding resolution for the clinic.

“The public funding for mental health, and the partnership with CWU, are the beginning of a positive change in Kittitas County,” he added. “We have the opportunity to help our community address mental health, and this clinic will provide increased access for youth in our county to access mental health services.”

CWU President Jim Wohlpart echoed Wachsmith’s sentiments, explaining that the university has been seeking new opportunities to partner with government agencies and community organizations to make a positive impact on the lives of local residents.

“The past few years have reinforced to all of us just how important mental health is to the well-being of our young people,” Wohlpart said. “The faculty and students in our Psychology Department are committed to creating positive outcomes for people in our community, and this partnership with Kittitas County will allow us to continue doing this critical work.”

The resolution calls for a CCPAC director to be hired within the first three months of 2024, and CWU Department of Psychology Chair Heidi Perez said she would begin the formal search for a director this month.

The department plans to offer a clinic practicum in the spring quarter, and Perez said she anticipates the director to be in place by that time. The ideal candidates would be state-licensed mental health counselors, though other backgrounds may also be qualified.

The clinic director will mentor a graduate assistant and other graduate students in the CWU School Psychology program, supervising their duties in the clinic. The director also will work with faculty who are assigned to teach the counseling-related courses.

“The director will model the skills needed to provide effective youth counseling,” Perez said, adding that she and her CWU colleagues look forward to the opportunity to address a growing need for mental health services in Kittitas County.

These services have become increasingly difficult to find across the region, and the return of the CCPAC will deliver some much-needed momentum.

“We see the reopening of the clinic as the first step for us being able to offer a variety of mental health services,” Perez said.

Both CWU and Kittitas County are approaching the new agreement as a win-win for the university and for local residents. The initiative will begin with referrals from the Ellensburg School District and eventually expand to the county’s five other school districts.

“We are fortunate to have partnerships in place with exceptional agencies, so that we can all work together to address mental health in Kittitas County, specifically for our youth in need,” Wachsmith said. “Mental health is a top concern for us, and we need to have the services and support in place to keep our community healthy.”