BHA staff become certified diversity professionals, executives


In February, the Behavioral Health Administration’s largest cohort to date were recognized in a virtual presentation for their diversity certifications. Seven staff members from across the administration earned the titles of certified diversity professionals and certified diversity executives.

“You are bringing to … DSHS — to our work — your own perspective, your own way of processing and seeing the future, and we appreciate it so very much,” said Theresa Powell, DSHS’s senior director of the Office of Equity, Diversity, Access and Inclusion.

The program requires that all participants not only complete coursework and pass certification exams, but also develop and implement EDAI projects.

For Darla Dawson, forensic admissions coordinator with the Office of Forensic Mental Health Services, that meant conducting a survey with residential treatment facility staff on their workplaces’ EDAI climates. Her research found that while 89 percent of staff felt encouraged by their managers to discuss different ideas, and 75 percent felt they could bring their whole self to work, 32 percent did not feel they could share difficult topics with their teams. Dawson presented the survey findings to OFMHS leadership to help inform their future EDAI efforts, and she recommended further research on how to sustain EDAI strengths.

Other BHA staff who presented their projects during the virtual ceremony included Jenise Gogan, BHA’s director of community transitions. She partnered with Simone Gardner, Eastern State Hospital’s director of social work, and Dave Chipchase, Western State Hospital’s director of workforce administration, to develop a proposal for staff career advancement opportunities.

­Gogan shared that within BHA, the most diverse group of employees are people in entry-level positions. The question became how to provide better mentorship and resources to these staff members to encourage not only retention, but also support for promotions to help create greater diversity in positions requiring advanced degrees.

“We developed a pilot project that includes surveying staff at entry-level positions about where their interests lie, how they would like to be involved in the pilot, and what they would like to see included in the pilot,” said Gogan. After the pilot, the project will look at employee engagement, retention levels, and staff morale and engagement.

Music Specialist Forest Beutel took his project in a different direction by focusing on patients at WSH. Beutel hopes to improve the EDAI climate by leading patients through civil rights movement songs, interspersed with discussions of contemporary issues.

“My role at WSH is to play music with and for the patients, so music is the primary way that I connect with the people residing here. Music has the potential to engage people who would otherwise be disinterested and music has the ability to unite people from different backgrounds and beliefs. Music can break down barriers,” said Beutel.

He shared his hopes for all people to become better educated about issues around race.

“I encourage my fellow citizens of all races, and especially those with white skin, to embrace knowledge and education and to reject ignorance. Take a moment to listen to a perspective other than that of a person who looks like you. Take a moment to look at how many more Black and brown people are incarcerated when compared to white people. And then ask yourself why this can be? Take the time to make this a better place to live for all,” said Beutel.

Other BHA staff who earned diversity certificates include Deana Bemus, Simone Gardner, Elizabeth Ndungu, and Andrea Slemp. If you would like to join a future cohort, please contact Yasmin Michaels, BHA’s EDAI manager.