CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Through its Mental Health Loan Repayment Program, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission is offering to pay $10,000 of college loans for students in mental health professions, in exchange for one year of in-state service.

WVHEPC Director of Behavioral Health Programs Carolyn Canini says as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, mental health practitioners are in dire need.

“We’ve been seeing the impacts of the pandemic on the citizens of West Virginia,” Canini said. “We know that everyone in our state needs and deserves access to high quality mental health care.”

With a need reaching a crisis, Canini is hoping this program will keep those professionals in the Mountain State.

“This program really helps fill some of those gaps to add just an extra incentive to someone who wants to stay in West Virginia,” she said.

Durand Warren, director of behavioral health at the Williamson Health and Wellness Center was one of the first recipients of the grant this spring. Working in Mingo County, he’s seen the impacts of the pandemic on rural areas.

“It’s really mainly because our economic base has been hit so hard,” Warren said. “Covid has been hit so hard in Southern West Virginia and usually any time you find poverty, you’re going to find a lot of substance abuse.”

Canini says these professionals are vital to the areas they serve.

“Helping people find their way, helping people connect with resources that can get them back to feeling good, back to their wellness to be the best they can be,” she said.

Applications will begin in October. For more information.