MU’s School of Social Work receives $1.8 million grant to support integrated behavioral studies

Grant training director Suzanne Cary: “It gives students so many more opportunities. It helps them seek out employment in the area of integrated behavioral health, so it helps them to find jobs and helps to train our proprietors through the whole state.”

The Schools of Social Work at MU and UM-St. Louis received a $1.8 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

“The grant is a workforce training grant,” grant training director Suzanne Cary said. “So as a part of the grant we train both students and the existing workforce in integrated behavioral health settings.”

The HRSA grant will be disbursed over the next four years and fund stipends for 120 master’s students spread across both campuses in the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training for Professionals Program.

“For MU, we will be training up to 18 students and 18 field instructors,” Cary said. “We are also providing education for the existing workforce that is across the state, not just for our field instructors but for all the folks that work at our various agencies.”

The grant provides students with a $10,000 stipend for their advanced clinical practicum. It also provides field instructors who work at local agencies with a $500 stipend. Grant recipients are able to use the stipends however they see fit, as long as it allows more time for their studies or improves their work in some way. The grant will also be used to assist students with behavioral health employment opportunities in needed areas once they are done with training.

“The requirements are that they do have to participate in the grant evaluation process,” Cary said. “They also have to commit to seeking employment in the integrated health or behavioral health field and seek a practicum in that area as well, and then they go through an application process.”

The grant recipients are studying integrated behavioral health, which is the study of the interaction between mental and physical health.

“[Integrated behavioral health is practiced] at a community health center or a primary care center,” Cary said. “You’re combining mental health or behavioral health with physical health, so you can get all of your needs met in one area. The whole reason for integrated behavioral health is that people were dying 25 years earlier with mental health issues because of associated physical problems that tend to accompany mental health.”

HRSA previously awarded a $1 million grant to MU and UMSL that disbursed from 2014 to 2017.

Missouri is the leading state in employment for integrated behavioral health jobs, and many awards have been given within the state for fieldwork, Cary said.

“[The grant] gives students so many more opportunities,” Cary said. “In addition, it helps them seek out employment in the area of integrated behavioral health, so it helps them to find jobs and helps to train our proprietors through the whole state.”

Integrated behavioral health is a growing trend in social work, so MU and UMSL want to educate their students on the subject, Cary said.

“This is important work happening in important places,” said Sharon Johnson, dean of UMSL’s School of Social Work and lead principal investigator on the grant, in a press release. “Being able to build an educated and experienced workforce to deliver needed behavioral health services to vulnerable individuals and their families is beyond beneficial — it’s necessary.”

Edited by Olivia Garrett | ogarrett@themaneater.com

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