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USD and LifeScape Launch SD's First BCBA Program

Feb 24, 2021 07:00AM ● By Med Magazine
Eric Kurtz, PhD, Executive Director of the Center for Disabilities

The University of South Dakota School Of Health Sciences’ Department of Public Health and Health Sciences in conjunction with the USD Center for Disabilities and LifeScape are partnering to offer the state's first certification program for Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) this fall. Eric Kurtz, PhD, Executive Director of the Center for Disabilities, says the new program will have far-reaching implications for healthcare organizations and patients throughout the region. 

"The program is going to fill a major gap in care in our state," says Dr. Kurtz. "The prevalence of autism and related developmental disabilities is continuing to rise and there are not enough professionals available to serve them. The evidence-based treatments that improve outcomes for those individuals throughout their lives is rooted in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy."

Board-Certified Behavior Analysts assess and treat problematic behaviors in children and adults. Although BCBAs are often associated with the treatment of autism in children, LifeScape Chief Operating Officer Kimberly Marso, RhD, BCBA-D, says there is an increasing need for these professionals in all age groups. 

 "As a BCBA, you can work with anyone at any age," says Marso. "BCBAs can specialize in areas such as traumatic brain injury, gerontology, or substance use disorders. There are many subspecialties in addition to autism." 

Marso says demand for BCBAs nationally has grown by nearly 2,000 percent in the last decade and the trend is continuing. LifeScape will provide instructors and clinical supervision for the new program in the hope that BCBAs trained in South Dakota will be more likely to stay in the state to practice. 

"We have had a workforce need for years and this has long been a goal of ours," says Marso. "We have waiting lists of families who need services. I can't hire enough BCBAs."

"This program is long overdue," agrees Ryan Groeneweg, EdS, BCBA, Director of Community Education at USD School of Medicine. Groeneweg will serve as Director of the new program and will be one of its instructors. He was one of only five BCBAs in the state when he started working ten years ago. 

A decade later, South Dakota still needs more BCBAs. Groeneweg says fewer than 50 of these professionals are credentialed in South Dakota and some of them work in surrounding states. Most are concentrated in the largest cities and primarily work with children with disabilities. 

"We should have BCBAs in places like schools, clinical settings, prisons, and substance abuse

  programs," says Kurtz. "We are hopeful that this program is going to allow us to really expand the settings in which these people are working."

Kurtz says several steps had to happen before the state could start its own BCBA program. The first occurred in 2016 when the state legislature approved limited insurance coverage for BCBA services. The second necessary step was the establishment of a state licensing and regulatory body for BCBAs. USD’s School of Health Sciences then developed the educational program. LifeScape's willingness to provide supervision for the required 2,000 hours of field work made the last step -the educational program- possible. 

The result is an interprofessional BCBA program with a lifetime focus and a clear path to clinical supervision before students even start, something that is unique among BCBA programs.

“This new educational program results from collaboration and cooperation with our partners in the state,” said Haifa Samra, dean of USD’s School of Health Sciences. “It builds around a common goal to meet a critical healthcare need for South Dakota families while also creating a mechanism for health professions students and practicing healthcare professionals to advance their career opportunities and practice in South Dakota.”

The program will accept both current graduate students in a masters level or higher program and practicing professionals in related fields such as psychology, speech language pathology, and special education. The first five to ten students will start the program this fall.  It can be completed in two years.