Student and Academic Life

Program Preps Social Work Students on Behavioral Health Needs of Underserved Kentuckians

Lexington, Ky. (Aug. 10, 2018) Student success is a top priority for the University of Kentucky, but financial barriers can hinder that success. Through the acquisition of a recent federal grant, several colleges within the university are making significant strides to close the gap.

Faculty in the College of Social Work, the College of Health Sciences and the College of Medicine have been awarded a four-year Integrated Behavioral Healthcare (IBH) Education and Training Grant. The $1.9 million federal grant, provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will provide stipends for students in need of financial assistance.

Full-time students earning a master's in social work are eligible for a $10,000 scholarship, while part-time students are eligible for a $5,000 scholarship.

Karen Badger, a professor in the College of Health Sciences with a joint appointment in the College of Social Work, is the principal investigator of the project. Pamela Weeks, director of field education in the College of Social Work, and Bill Elder, a professor in the College of Medicine, are co-investigators.

In addition to financial assistance, the grant team and their community partners aim to improve patient access to integrated behavioral health services in primary care settings. Under the new grant, additional IBH field education sites will be developed to expand the project in Fayette County and Eastern Kentucky.

"Our IBH students will advance an integrated approach to health care in the Commonwealth, providing services to underserved populations in medical clinics that treat the 'whole person' across the lifespan," Badger said. "For individuals in underserved areas such as Eastern Kentucky and for uninsured or marginalized patient populations, the placement of social workers in medical clinics opens a door to services and resources that would be otherwise out of reach and reduces stigma associated with mental health or substance abuse treatment."

HRSA reported that national projections of supply and demand for behavioral health practitioners predict significant shortages by 2025. This shortage of health professionals is even more acute in rural areas. The project is designed to improve access to behavioral health services for patients in underserved communities by increasing the number of well-prepared social workers entering the workforce.

“IBH students will learn how to address behavioral health concerns including mental illness, family violence, psychological trauma and substance misuse, as well behavioral components in conditions such as diabetes, insomnia and chronic pain," Weeks explained. "A well-trained, competent behavioral health workforce is necessary to meet our nation’s growing need and the rapidly changing health care environment. MSW IBH students will integrate classroom learning with hands-on clinical experience in primary care settings to offer access to services for patients with a wide range of behavioral health problems.”

Starting this fall semester, the team will welcome an initial cohort of 28 students. All current and future MSW students are eligible to apply for consideration for the next IBH cohort, which will take place during the 2019-20 school year.

This project is supported by the HRSA of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number M01HP31362-01-01, Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program, $1,902,040.00 award. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. government.

For more information, contact Lynn Joyce Hunter.

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