Ballmer Group gives $38M to bolster Washington state’s ailing mental health services

Steve and Connie Ballmer. (Ballmer Group Photo)

Ballmer Group, an organization created by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife Connie, is donating $38 million over the next few years to create and strengthen multiple programs that support mental health services.

The funding comes at a time when the state is confronting a mental health crisis and failing to serve people in need of care, experts say. Particularly hard hit are people experiencing poverty and patients of color. Washingtons lawmakers this year included roughly $370 million in their budget to support and train providers of mental health care.

More than $21 million from Ballmer Group is earmarked for financial assistance to pay for graduate-level clinical education for more than 400 students at approximately 13 colleges and universities across the state. The University of Washingtons School of Social Work will coordinate the five-year program. The effort targets students who go on to work in community-based behavioral health programs that serve low-income patients with mental health or substance-use issues.

The same inequities that plague every American institution apply to our behavioral health system, which is designed to cater to wealthy white people. Further complications of stigma, cost and a fundamental lack of system capacity to meet the growing need are woven throughout our current behavioral health infrastructure, said Connie Ballmer in a statement. Thats why we were proud to partner with the University of Washington, state leaders, [and] providers to lay a foundation for shifting our system through addressing workforce capacity, access and equity.

Other Ballmer Group supported-initiatives include:

  • More than $3 million to establish an undergraduate student training program for behavioral health support specialists. The program will be offered to students at colleges statewide and is being developed in partnership with the UW Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
  • $5.5 million to the UW Behavioral Health Institute at Seattles Harborview Medical Center to create behavioral health apprenticeship programs for early and mid-career professionals around the state. King County and a healthcare union are collaborating in the effort.
  • Nearly $3 million to the UW Medicine Behavioral Health Institute for work redesigning Washingtons behavioral health crisis response system. The project will include government leaders and community-partners.

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