Gov. Janet Mills announced an award of $475,000 to the University of Maine System to support the placement of students pursuing masters in social work degrees in rural health care sites.

In addition to placing students in these areas of high need, the funding will be used to increase the number of trained practitioners who can supervise MSW students and encourage current health care staff to consider pursuing an MSW degree by providing the opportunity for field placements in rural communities.

“Now more than ever, social workers are essential to ensuring the health, well-being and productivity of Maine people and our communities,” says University of Maine Chancellor Dannel Malloy. “This investment recognizes our public university system’s unique ability to prepare compassionate and highly competent social work professionals for service across our state, and especially in rural regions where there is growing need, but where access to critical mental health and social services is limited. We look forward to leveraging these funds to expand enrollment and opportunity for our social work students to advance their own practice and make a real difference for their fellow Mainers during these times of challenge and change.”

“This funding will allow us to support MSW students interested in practicing in rural areas, as well as supporting a number of field placement sites providing unique behavioral health services in more remote regions of the state. We will be partnering with seven Northern Light Health rural community hospitals and the Pleasant Point Health Center, where students will benefit from the supervision of skilled social workers well versed in the needs of their rural communities. Students and their supervisors will also have the opportunity to participate in a series of anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion workshops conducted by Bangor-based Equity Consulting & Education,” says Sandra Butler, professor and director of the MSW program at the University of Maine.

The award is part of a $2.25 million funding package to strengthen Maine’s health care workforce by expanding training opportunities for health care professionals in rural areas. Additional awardees include MaineHealth and St. Joseph’s College of Medicine. 

“Rural Maine is my home. I care deeply about the people who live there, and I want to ensure that they have access to high-quality health care services,” said Mills. “This investment builds on our efforts to recruit and train more people to enter the health care workforce and to strengthen our health care system in the long-term for the benefit of Maine people.”

The package is funded in part by $1.6 million from the Governor’s Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, which will be used to recruit and support clinical supervisors, known as preceptors, in rural health systems, and to expand graduate medical education programs in Maine. The funds, administered by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, will expand training opportunities for doctors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in rural communities and encourage aspiring health care workers to launch rewarding careers in Down East, northern and western Maine, where health care providers are in demand.

“This investment by Gov. Mills will bolster Maine’s health care workforce and ultimately improve access to health care in rural communities,” said Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “Supporting the pipeline of health care professionals and developing a coordinated system to connect Maine people with rewarding career opportunities will help strengthen Maine’s health system for patients statewide.”

This award is the latest investment from the Mills Administration to address Maine’s workforce challenges, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan is the Governor’s plan, approved by the Legislature, to invest nearly $1 billion in Federal American Rescue Plan funds to improve the lives of Maine people and families, help businesses, create good-paying jobs, and build an economy poised for future prosperity. The plan has so far dedicated more than $300 million for workforce programs, and has created 22,000 apprenticeship, career and education advancement and job training opportunities for Maine people.