Great Minds Conference Educates and Inspires

A view of Mount Rainier across the Puget Sound.

On November 7-8, 2018, Great Minds at Work hosted a Work Behavioral Health Supported Employment conference in Tacoma, WA. The event was a collaborative effort between the Health Care Authority- Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery, University of Washington Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and the SAMHSA BEST project.

The goal of the conference was to promote the Supported Employment Medicaid benefit and bring together a diverse group of presenters to share information about recovery supports, promising programs, and policies that advance best practices.  This conference was a huge success, with over 236 Attendees and topics covered included:

  • Customized employment (The untapped job market)
  • Job Development for individuals with justice involvement
  • Youth Career planning
  • How working effects benefits and work incentives
  • Peer role in employment and recovery
  • Job Seekers and Homelessness
  • Documenting medical necessity
  • Tribal VR and IPS (Tribal VR Grants) Culture-specific
  • Social determents of health
  • Opportunity for Choice (assessment, career explorations, and non-bias)
  • Staff recruitment, training, and retention tools

The conference provided a unique venue for the exchange of ideas and information across all sectors working with behavioral health conditions. Some of the ideas attendees explored included financing employment services, educating the workforce on placement and support services, expanding FCS services for Washington residents who have most immediate needs, cross-systems collaboration among employers, housing providers, workforce development and culture change to include employment as a recovery-orientated outcome.

Conference organizers designed the conference to educate and inspire system partners, agency leaders and staff, clinicians, employment specialists, peer counselors and individuals with lived behavioral health experience on the role employment plays in the recovery process and address how long-term unemployment contributes to poor physical and behavioral health outcomes.

Stay tuned for information about the 2019 conference.

Supported Employment Wraps Services around People & Employers and helps #EndtheStigma

Although most people (80%-90%) with serious psychiatric disabilities do not work, between 55%-75% indicate a desire to do so. The recognized vision of Recovery includes work as one important domain in which to develop a sense of purpose. Effective interventions that support recovery by facilitating the employment of people with significant psychiatric disabilities have been identified over the past two decades. The most globally researched model is Individual Placement and Support (IPS), which repeatedly demonstrated outcomes in the range of 50-60%.

Great Minds at Work, funded by the BEST grant, is committed to demonstrating to Washington employers the value, benefits and incentives of hiring people with treated mental health issues or substance abuse disorders. In addition, Great Minds helps educate Washington employers about the cost through lost productivity, absenteeism and turnover of untreated mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Research from OECD (The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) stresses the state of being unemployed itself is very detrimental to mental health. The OECD also states there is evidence that people with mental health challenges who find a job see significant improvements in their life.

Joe Marrone, Senior Program Manager, Public Policy, Institute for Community Inclusion, School of Global Inclusion and Social Development at UMASS BOSTON, believes that supported employment is crucial in helping individuals with behavioral health challenges.

“Long term unemployment is a major public health crisis, especially for citizens confronted by behavioral health problems. It is one of the most harmful conditions for people that can lead to psychiatric and other health problems, even when these conditions are not present before becoming unemployed. So, employment must be considered a major outcome for which a behavioral health system of care should be held accountable,” says Marrone.


The program includes two Medicaid benefits: supported employment and supportive housing services. The supported employment service is a benefit that wraps a web of support around an individual to help them find and keep jobs while supporting the employers who hire them.

There are many types of vocational programs for people with mental illness; however, people who participate in supported employment program also called Individual Placement and Support (IPS) are almost three times more likely to gain employment than those who engage in other types of vocational programs. IPS has been thoroughly researched and is a specific set of supported employment services that help more people with mental illness or substance use challenges obtain employment than any other type of vocational program.


Often a medical provider or a case worker will refer an individual to a supported employment (SE) provider. In Washington State, AmeriGroup administers supported employment services. Together, the SE provider and the individual work on developing a career path as well as identifying barriers to success and addressing those barriers with the intent of initiating the job search process as rapidly as possible.

“While there has been an enormous amount of evidence developed over more than 2 decades showing how helpers can effectively assist people with psychiatric disabilities achieve successful employment, some mental health systems of care have been slow to change,” says Marrone. “It’s impressive that Washington State DBHR/ HCA has embarked on a major funding initiative for employment through a Medicaid waiver authority.”

In some cases, through the analysis of the business’s needs they’ll work out a solution known as job carving. They’ll ask the employer, ‘Is there a way we could carve out some of the tasks that may be a better fit with the skills and talents of the individual being served.’ Job carving helps a potential employee add maximum value to the employer in a competitive environment.

All of the jobs pay minimum wage or higher.

Individuals with behavioral health challenges can be a value-add to any team. Supported employment is a resource for both the employee and the employer. It is the right thing to do for the individual, but it is also an opportunity to diversify the workforce with an untapped labor pool with skills, talents and abilities to contribute to organizations in need of additional workers — at the end of the day it is good for individuals, and it is good for business.

The good news is that this evidence-based approach helps people with behavioral health challenges find and keep jobs in their communities.

For more information about supported employment, visit

Supported Employment is a now a Medicaid Health Benefit in Washington State

Great Minds at Work focuses on educating employers and connecting them with resources to be able to successfully work with people who may have treated mental health issues or substance abuse disorders (together, behavioral health challenges). In support of the Becoming Employed Starts Today (BEST) Mental Health Transformation Grant, Great Minds at Work helps combat the stigma of mental health and substance abuse issues in the workplace.

In order for employers to successfully hire and retain workers, organizations that are licensed to help people with behavioral health challenges provide the expert support needed in these employment relationships. Traditionally, these organizations have been funded through a variety of sources, but are now being recognized as foundational services in the field of health care.

Foundational Community Supports (FCS) is Initiative 3 of Washington State’s 5 year Medicaid Transformation, and creates 2 new benefits that provide access to supportive housing and supported employment services for Medicaid populations with the greatest and most immediate needs. The Foundational Community Supports Program is overseen by the Health Care Authority and administered through a Third Party Administrator (TPA), Amerigroup.  Amerigroup is responsible for building a network of both traditional and social service providers who help eligible Medicaid recipients obtain and maintain housing and employment. This innovative project is focused on finding sustainable ways of transforming the healthcare system to save money and provide better health outcomes among the populations served. By integrating services that are not traditionally provided by the health care system, including supported housing and employment, the Health Care Authority hopes to create a system that truly addresses the health of its population rather than just medical symptoms.

The long-term goal is to have these services as a continued benefit that is incorporated into Washington’s general Medicaid program. That way, all Washingtonians who are eligible for Medicaid will have access to these benefits.

Employers who want to participate in supported employment relationships should connect with one of Amerigroup’s contracted providers. These providers can vary by location, and include Behavioral Health Organizations, long-term care agencies, social service agencies, and even counties. The full provider network list can be found in the Washington Foundational Community Supports Provider Directory.