Social workers, physicians, nurses, psychiatrists, substance use recovery coaches and others who work in community health centers will be able to apply next month to have the state repay between $12,500 and $300,000 worth of loans as part of a $130 million program the Baker administration announced Thursday.
Using money from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Opioid Recovery and Remediation Trust Fund, the administration has contracted with the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers to implement the loan repayment program meant to support and retain workers in the behavioral health and primary care fields.
Detailed instructions to apply for loan repayment will come from the League of Community Health Centers in December, the administration said.
“The pandemic has exacerbated workforce shortages across the health care and human services sector in both the public and private markets, placing significant stress on our health care providers, their staff and our Massachusetts residents seeking care,” Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said. “Through this program, we are providing tangible support to sustain them in this high demand work.”
In October, the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association estimated that Bay State hospitals are short on workers to the tune of 19,000 full-time positions statewide and said that the shortage, combined with hospital financial losses, has created “an unprecedented crisis” for providers that affects both access and cost for patients.
Workers who will be eligible for loan repayment include “social workers, primary care physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, substance use recovery coaches and case managers who work at Community Health Centers, Community Mental Health Centers, psychiatric units in acute care hospitals, in-patient psychiatric hospitals or substance use treatment programs,” the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said.
Loans that will be eligible for repayments include “government loans made by federal, state, county or city agencies and commercial loans from banks, credit unions, savings and loan associations, insurance companies, schools, and other financial or credit institutions.”
HHS said that the program will repay educational loans that were used for “actual costs paid for tuition and reasonable educational and living expenses” related to the education “that resulted in the degree that qualifies them for this Initiative.”
Applicants will get priority status for loan repayment if they can provide care in a language other than English, if they have demonstrated a commitment to caring for “historically medically underserved patients,” if they work at a designated community behavioral health center, and if they work in one of 20 communities prioritized in the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Initiative. Repayment awards will range from $12,500 to $300,000 based on an applicant’s job, job setting, academic degree and full- or part-time status.