Thursday, October 12, 2017

By Lois J. Gray

Iowa veterans and Latinos in rural communities will have better access to mental health care thanks to a new $1.3-million-dollar grant received by the University of Iowa.

The grant, “Integrating Behavioral Health into Rural Medicine,” is a new collaboration between the UI Counseling Psychology Program in the College of Education, the UI Mobile Clinic, and Grinnell College.

Over the course of 4 years, the grant will train and fund the placement of 28 counseling psychology Ph.D. students in a dozen different locations across the state.

This is especially critical because all 99 Iowa counties are medically underserved. Another sobering statistic is that Iowa consistently ranks near the bottom of all states in every single category of mental health programs and services.

"It’s a hardship to have to get your healthcare from far away, especially when you’re dealing with life-threatening or mental health issues," says Saba Ali, counseling psychology professor and grant project director. Saba also recently took on a new leadership role in the UI College of Education as Associate Dean for Research.

“It’s a hardship to have to get your healthcare from far away, especially when you’re dealing with life-threatening or mental health issues."
– Saba Ali, counseling psychology professor and grant project director

Integrated behavioral health care is an emerging field within the wider practice of high-quality, coordinated health care. It describes any situation in which behavioral health and medical providers work together

The funding comes from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as part of the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program.

“Rural Americans, particularly Latinos and veterans, experience unique health disparities,” Ali says. “As a group, veterans are at greater risk for PTSD and substance abuse while rural Latinos struggle with major health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.”

Denise Martinez, a clinical associate professor of family medicine and assistant dean in the UI Carver College of Medicine, is a co-principal investigator. Charles Bermingham, clinical assistant professor in the Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program, will also work on this project as part of his joint appointment with UI College of Education and Grinnell.

The grant will help expand ongoing partnerships with UI Health Care, the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Iowa City, and the VA Office of Rural Health in Iowa City.

Twelve new practicum field placements will be funded that provide integrated behavioral health care in rural settings to underserved populations and enhance current sites to include interdisciplinary training with allied health professionals. This includes primary care and family practice physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and public health administrators.

“This grant trains doctoral students in counseling psychology to work in an interdisciplinary setting with underserved populations,” Ali says. “The goal, ultimately, is to have them work in these underserved communities when they graduate.”

This grant will hopefully help place more experts in communities across the state to help those most vulnerable. While the grant is focused on veterans and the Latino community, it will benefit everyone in rural communities, Ali says.

“We’re helping to create that student to teacher pathway for people at the doctoral level who are interested in going on to serve these specific communities,” says Ali, “but we also want to look at the issue of rural medicine more broadly. We certainly want to make sure we’re assisting these specific populations, but we also want to think what people need more holistically in rural communities.”