NSU College of Nursing and School of Allied Health Gets $1.9 Million Grant to Improve Delivery of Mental Health Services

Northwestern State University’s College of Nursing and School of Allied Health has received a $1.9 million grant from The Health Resources and Services Administration Bureau of Health Workforce to help expand the delivery of mental health services in Louisiana.

The grant will help Northwestern State’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) concentration to educate more students who can help provide needed care in underserved areas and effectively use technology to provide those services.

“This grant means that more students will be able to participate in the PMHNP program. More importantly, however, this grant means that residents in underserved areas will have greater access to mental health services,” said Dr. Joel Hicks, dean of the College of Nursing and School of Allied Health at Northwestern State. “The recent pandemic emphasized the need for innovation in healthcare delivery. This grant will help support and develop telehealth delivery within our program and experiential learning sites, which not only improves access to underserved communities but also ensures future nurse practitioners are prepared to effectively use the technology in the care they provide.”

Northwestern State was one of 56 recipients to receive $22 million in awards for 2021-22 as part of the Behavioral Health Workforce and Education Training (BHWET) Program for Professionals.

According to the 2020 annual report of “America’s Health Care Rankings,” Louisiana ranks 50th in overall health care indicators, 49th in “Frequent Mental Distress,” and 42nd in depression compared to other states in the United States. Frequent mental distress increased 27 percent between 2011 and 2019 from 14.6 percent to 18.5 percent of adults. The Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Workforce reported that as of this past December, Louisiana has 150 Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. Due to COVID-19, social distancing requirements and the growing need for behavioral healthcare, there is a unique opportunity for PMHNP students to integrate telehealth delivery within clinical experiential learning activities.

“There are limited clinical experiences which cause students to travel to obtain hours,” said Dr. Tiana Williams, coordinator for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Project Activities. “Funding will open opportunities for more faculty, preceptors and evaluators to prepare the students for the increasing demand for mental health providers. The community will benefit as these PMHNP will have access to collaborate with community partners and make telemedicine available to those in underserved areas.”

The grant begins in July and will run through June 2025. Funding will support stipends for trainees in final experiential training and support educational activities in telehealth delivery for students, faculty and community partners. These provisions for trainee support and technology integration will improve the distribution and supply of the behavioral health workforce.

“The BHWET grant will help expand experiential training opportunities for our students by emphasizing interdisciplinary collaboration and a team-based approach in integrated behavioral health and primary care settings with the use of telehealth,” said Dr. Angela Hardy, coordinator for Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Project Activities. “This will broaden our relationships with community-based partners and ultimately increase access to quality behavioral health services for underserved and diverse populations across the lifespan.”

The project has three primary objectives. The first is to increase multidisciplinary training experiences for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner students that integrate behavioral health care for high-risk, high-needs youth, adolescents and transition-aged youth within primary care environments. Other objectives are to develop strategies for technology integration in the provision of behavioral healthcare by Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners and recruit a PMHNP workforce that expands the diversity of the targeted geographic areas.

Students in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner concentration must complete 608 clinical hours throughout the program, most of which are located within rural and underserved HPSAs. There is a growing need for behavioral healthcare within Louisiana.

The grant was written by College of Nursing and School of Allied Health Director of Grants and Planning Dr. Cindy McGuire and former Director of Grants, Planning and Development Maxine Johnson. The grant was submitted by Carla Howell, director of Grants and Contracts who also provided guidance and assistance. Senior Director of Nursing Dr. Pamela Simmons is the project director.

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