UNMC receives grant to expand mental health services to rural, urban underserved populations

Staff Writer
Syracuse Journal-Democrat

The University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing has received a $1.5 million grant to make mental health services accessible for vulnerable adults and children in rural and urban  Nebraska communities.

The grant will establish partnerships with two primary care clinics to provide services to underserved populations - those who are at a disadvantage due to economic, medical or geographic barriers, including minorities.

The three-year grant, funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is partnering with Heartland Health Center in Grand Island, its satellite clinic in Ravenna and Nebraska Medicine’s Internal Medicine clinic in Omaha. 

The Grand Island clinics serve Hall and neighboring counties Merrick, Adams, Clay, Webster and Nuckolls, which serve 115,284 residents. Heartland Health Center has a Patient-Centered Medical Home Model of care which integrates other health services under the same roof. 

The grant will help integrate and expand mental health care services such as screening, counseling and prescribing of medication  said Terri Mathews, Ph.D., associate professor and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner in the UNMC College of Nursing, who is leading the grant as principal investigator.

At each clinic, advanced practice nurses -- a psychiatric nurse practitioners -- will work with teams of family nurse practitioners and other health professionals. 

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who diagnose, treat and manage illness, and prescribe medications.

The grant also will fund a mental health therapist in each clinic to provide counseling services on site. 

"Our main goal is to increase the capacity of advanced practice nurses to lead interdisciplinary teams to provide quality behavioral health services in primary care," Dr. Mathews said. "The clinics are busy and often don’t have the resources to offer services they want to provide."

She said about 25% of the U.S. population, including children, have a need for mental health services. Some suffer from conditions such as anxiety, depression or traumatic experiences.

"We predict only  33%   of patients with concerns speak out or receive treatment. We hope to increase access to mental health services as well as increase awareness of the need."

Dr. Mathews said the stigma associated with seeking mental health services may be reduced because of the integration of services into a primary care clinic where patients are seen for a variety of health issues.

The clinics also will serve as a training site for the education of nursing and students enrolled in mental health specialties at UNMC, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and other institutions. 

Another goal is to build partnerships with area public schools to develop a support system for mental health screening and counseling or referral for Kindergarten through 12th grade. 

The grant is titled Increasing Access to Integrated Behavioral and Primary Care Services Through APRN-Led Teams.