Partnership with Iļisaġvik College gives Behavioral Health Aides more opportunity to support Alaska Native communities

February 12, 2018

Behavioral and mental wellness are important, yet often underserved, parts of individual and community health in rural Alaska. In order to better serve our Alaska Native people throughout the state, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium has partnered with Iļisaġvik College to develop an academic program to grow a community-based behavioral health workforce.

The training curriculum was designed by ANTHC Behavioral Health Aide Program and is specifically tailored for Behavioral Health Aides (BHA) who are serving our people in rural communities. The two-year program gives BHAs who are employed by a Tribal health organization an avenue to advance their careers and career opportunities. BHAs enrolled in the training program will earn an associate degree from Iļisaġvik College and achieve their BHA-I and -II level certifications through the Alaska Tribal Health System’s Community Health Aide Program Certification Board (CHAPCB).

“This is one of a few avenues for training our Behavioral Health Aides, but it’s the first to be tailored specifically to BHAs so they are prepared to address the unique challenges of their position,” Xiomara “Xio” Owens, ANTHC Director of Behavioral Health Aide Training, said. “The curriculum is designed and taught in the context of working and living in rural and remote Alaskan communities.”

In their first year, students learn fundamental information about behavioral health and the types of situations they might encounter in the field. This includes an introduction to behavioral health topics, such as healthy relationships, substance use and suicidality. During the first year, BHAs are also learning about ethics, consent, confidentiality and compliance.

The second year, currently under review by Iļisaġvik College, will dive more into clinical skills, such as interviewing techniques and recognizing co-occurring disorders.

“They’ll also learn about navigating dual relationships and identifying community-based resources to support those they are serving,” Owens said.

The program launched in August 2017 with eight BHAs from across the Alaska Tribal Health System in the first cohort.

“We were mindful in our recruiting for this program,” Owens said. “We wanted people who had a vested interest in, and commitment to, the health of their communities. We also wanted to enroll BHAs who demonstrated the potential to move beyond an associate degree so they can eventually get their master’s degree and become employed as clinicians for their regional health organization.”

All BHAs need a master’s level clinician as a supervisor. However, supervising clinicians are not often from the community or region they serve, so there is perpetual concern about turnover. Furthermore, BHAs looking to advance into these positions aren’t able to unless they have an academic degree.

“It’s important for people from the community to have an opportunity to grow into the supervisor positions [of master’s level clinician],” Owens said. “They are going to be there for the long haul. They are committed because it’s their community and they should be able to advance their careers within the communities they are a part of.”

An additional benefit to the partnership through Iļisaġvik is the use of distance learning technology, such as tele-and videoconferencing, which allows BHAs to connect live with their instructors and fellow students across the state without leaving their communities.

“Folks are participating in classes from their home community on a weekly basis and then they come together for a one-week intensive in Anchorage each semester,” Owens said. “We were thoughtful in the design of the program and now that we have implemented the model and have our first cohort enrolled in and attending classes, we’re coming to find out it’s an awesome partnership with Iļisaġvik. Our students and instructors have commented that they feel well supported by staff at ANTHC and Iļisaġvik, and even more importantly, that the training is meaningful and relevant to their roles as BHAs.”

To learn more about Behavioral Health Aides, visit:

Last fall, ANTHC, the State of Alaska and the U.S. Departments of Labor signed an agreement to establish a new Registered Apprenticeship program for Tribal regions’ Behavioral Health Aide providers. More on that development can be found here:

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