POCATELLO — A $1.5 million investment from the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health will help Idaho State University increase the number of mental health providers in Idaho and improve access to health care in rural communities, through the creation of two new programs.

ISU will accept the gift at the football game against the University of Idaho on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Holt Arena.

The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health Behavioral Health and Accessibility Scholarships will provide up to 50 individual scholarships annually for students from Idaho majoring in behavioral health programs available at ISU, including counseling, clinical psychopharmacology, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, clinical psychology and social work.

The scholarships will also be available for related accessibility majors, including sign language interpreting and students majoring in Spanish for the health professions, or completing the Spanish for Health Professions graduate certificate.

ISU’s Kasiska Division of Health Sciences Director of Development Ryan Gerulf points out that these scholarships create incentives for prospective students to enroll in professions focusing on mental health. Additional graduates will increase the number of mental health professionals in the state, as nearly 88 percent of recent ISU graduates have stayed in Idaho.

“That’s critical to our health care education mission,” said Vice President for Health Sciences and Senior Vice Provost Rex Force. “Idaho ranks 49th in the country for mental health, based on high prevalence of mental illness and low rates of access to care. We are extremely thankful to the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health for their financial support of our students.”

To help ISU students working and learning in rural clinical rotation sites throughout Idaho, the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health Rural Clinical Training Stipends will help cover housing and other expenses for 50 students annually.

Eligible students must complete their training in rural areas of Idaho with populations less than 10,000 and located at least 25 miles from ISU’s campuses in Pocatello or Meridian. Any clinical training completed on a federally recognized Native American tribal reservation is also eligible for this stipend.

“Two of our priorities at the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health are removing barriers to education and addressing the health care workforce shortage in rural parts of our state,” said President and Board Chairman of the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health Mike Reynoldson. “These scholarships and stipends will help deserving students become future caregivers while providing much-needed services in rural Idaho.”

As Idaho’s leading health care education institution, it is the mission of ISU’s Kasiska Division of Health Sciences to provide leadership in delivering rural health care by educating caring and competent professionals across all dimensions of health. Yet clinical placements have become more urbanized in recent years as students have chosen to receive their clinical training near ISU’s campuses.

In addition, due to the increased costs of living, many students are unable to pay for four weeks of housing in a remote location on top of their regular living expenses. Therefore students are more reluctant to take clinical placement opportunities in rural areas. As the cost of housing in Idaho escalates, this challenge for rural placements will only be exacerbated in the future.

Force believes the Rural Clinical Training Stipends from the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health will be a game-changer for Idaho’s rural communities. “Currently, many students working and training in rural clinical locations, more so than urban locations, are frequently offered jobs after they’ve completed their education. This means a direct influx of health care providers ready to provide care in those rural areas, a need that is often more acute than in urban areas.”