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The JPMorgan Chase Foundation awarded the San Diego Workforce Partnership a $400,000 grant to pilot programs that “provide underrepresented and low-income workers with support in launching meaningful careers in the healthcare industry,” it was announced Monday.

The first program — Substance Use Disorder Counselor Training — is intended to collaborate with employers, trainers and education providers to prepare participants with skills to enter the behavioral health industry. Participants will be provided with free tuition for an online training program, as well as registration and certification fees with an approved credentialing body.

“Counselors trained to deliver the care and treatment individuals struggling with substance use need is vital to our county’s new harm reduction strategies,” Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “This program will build a sustainable pipeline of counselors and give us the capacity to help more San Diegans fight substance use disorders and get on the road to recovery.”

According to a report released by the Workforce Partnership, San Diego’s healthcare industry employs 186,000 workers in San Diego County, which is 5% of the population and 13% of overall employment.

The program’s goal is to help San Diegans build careers in healthcare, with a special focus on workers who face discrimination in the labor market — such as women, people of color and English-language learners.

In the five years from 2016 to 2021, while the overall labor force in San Diego County shrank by 2%, the number of substance use, behavioral disorder and mental health counselors increased by 28%. According to a partnership statement, it expects even more growth to come based on the ongoing opioid crisis, a shift from criminalization to treatment for drug use and changes to healthcare reimbursement policies and funding priorities at the federal, state and local level.

–City News Service, Inc.