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$1.9M Grant Supports Integrated Health Care Training Program at Wegmans School of Nursing

October 31, 2017

The St. John Fisher College Wegmans School of Nursing will enhance its existing programs for mental health counselors and psychiatric nurse practitioners to include an emphasis upon strategies for delivering integrated behavioral and physical health care, especially to underserved and vulnerable populations.

The training opportunities will be funded by a $1.9 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program. This marks the largest grant ever received in the College’s history, and is the third grant the School has received from HRSA in 12 months. In September 2016, the School was granted $292,000 to launch the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Counselor Training Program and in August 2017, it received $1.2 million to increase the skill level of the primary care workforce in underserved and at-risk populations in the Finger Lakes region. Each grant was secured in collaboration with the Office of Sponsored Research.

“Our ongoing success in securing federal funding for our graduate programs is a testament to the quality of our programs and the expertise of our faculty,” said Dr. Dianne Cooney Miner, dean of the School. “We continue our commitment to providing graduates with the cutting-edge knowledge and experiences that prepare them for practice in today’s complex health care environment.”

The BHWET grant will provide stipends for a select group of students in the School’s Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and Mental Health Counseling graduate programs who have demonstrated an interest in providing integrated care. The program’s approach: treating the whole person.

“If we could be more effective in treating a person’s physical and behavioral issues, we could improve patient outcomes and decrease unnecessary hospitalization and emergency visits,” explained Dr. Kathleen Plum, a visiting assistant professor in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program, who was one of the principal authors of the grant.

Plum said research shows that for people who have a high burden of chronic physical conditions, a co-occurring behavioral health issue can be a complicating factor negatively affecting their recovery. Conversely, individuals with serious behavioral issues can often carry undiagnosed medical issues. To bridge the gap between behavioral and physical health care, Plum said agencies are turning to integrated models. This can include a team approach to appointments where medical and mental health professionals work closely together, growing the number of psychiatric practitioners in primary care settings, and intentionally increasing the level of communication between providers.

“With this approach, there is less fragmentation or confusion for the patient,” Plum explained. “The more we communicate, the better we can support the patient in his or her recovery.”

Dr. Robert Rice, associate professor of mental health counseling and principal author on the grant, said having the Mental Health Counseling program housed within the School of Nursing positions the School exceptionally well to focus on health care integration.

“Because we are in the School of Nursing, we share the same resources and philosophies, which lends itself well to interdisciplinary training,” Rice explained. “Our efforts are mutually beneficial and encourage a collaborative process where the nursing and counseling students are learning each other’s language and understanding what the other does—allowing them to do their jobs more effectively.”

For students in the training program, this collaboration means access to workshops focused on integrated practices, role play sessions with standardized patients, an interdisciplinary approach to curriculum, and internship and field work with agencies that provide—or have the potential to provide—integrated care. While the program will support patients across the lifespan, there is a special interest in assisting those from rural or medically underserved populations.

As the Health Integration Coordinator for the grant, Plum will work with the students and the School’s community partners to bridge the potential gap between practice and education in implementing integrated health care. As the former Mental Health Director for Monroe and for Wyoming Counties, Plum has developed an appreciation for the regulatory and financial issues facing facilities and practitioners in both the rural and urban settings, and has a deep understanding of how to support agencies interested in transitioning to a more team-based, interprofessional model.

Rice, the project director for the Integrated Care Training Program, said these patients will benefit greatly from the integrated health care model.

“We’re learning more and more that mental health and physical health are connected in all sorts of ways,” he explained. “Encouraging collaboration and helping mental health and medical professionals to work together on united treatment plans can increase efficacy while reducing visits and cost.”

The St. John Fisher College BHWET project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number M01HP31343 of the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program for $1,885,910 over four years. 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.