Imagine that your child is experiencing a depressive episode and has no access to mental health care. That is a reality for many families in Louisiana, which is ranked 45th in the nation for availability of psychiatric mental health practitioners. Only 9% of kids age 3 to 17 in the state have received counseling for mental health from a mental health provider in the last year.
To address that disparity, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) just invested $1.25 million over five years to improve the lives of vulnerable populations in Louisiana. The HRSA awarded LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing a Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) grant for this amount. Leanne Fowler, DNP, MBA, APRN, AGACNP-BC, CNE, Director of Nurse Practitioner Programs, Coordinator of Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Concentration, and Associate Professor of Nursing, will make sure that money is put to good use.
Improving Access to Mental Health Care
The project seeks to promote the integration of behavioral health into primary care settings by increasing the number of clinical training sites.
“This grant will provide primary care and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner students enhanced clinical placement within community-based, integrated care clinics,” Dr. Fowler says.
Many Louisiana children and adolescents are entitled to behavioral health services through Medicaid. For the majority who live in rural areas however, finding those services is nearly impossible because there are few providers in rural areas. Including enhanced behavioral health training in the nursing programs will put mental health professionals where they are needed most.
“Didactic and clinical learning experiences, including telehealth and simulations, will be enhanced to prepare trainees to serve children, adolescents and transitional-age youth in urgent need of mental health care,” says Abby McNeil, DNP, FNP-BC, FPMNP-BC, Program Coordinator, BSN to DNP Psychiatric, Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing.
Integrating mental health services into primary care sites will increase access for many patients. Increased training opportunities in these settings for nursing students will enhance their value when they get into the workforce.
Greater Diversity in the NP Workforce
“I am very encouraged that this opportunity will contribute greatly to building the capacity of a primary care NP and psychiatric mental health NP workforce in Louisiana – a state with a tremendous primary care and mental health workforce deficit.”
Leanne Fowler, DNP, MBA, APRN, AGACNP-BC, CNE
The BHWET grant will also help the School of Nursing recruit graduate students from underrepresented communities, such as those who are or may have been economically disadvantaged.
“This grant provides stipends to the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) students in their third year of education and training to offer financial support and to help facilitate recruitment and retention,” Dr. McNeil says.
“Additionally, the grant will provide psychiatric mental health NP students with tuition relief and an immersive clinical experience over three semesters with potential psychiatric mental health NP employers,” Dr. Fowler says.
An essential component of the health care system, psychiatric mental health and primary care nurse practitioners need to be prepared to meet the unique challenges of caring for medically underserved populations. One of the key elements of health disparities in Louisiana is a lack of access to mental health care.
“I am very encouraged that this opportunity will contribute greatly to building the capacity of a primary care NP and psychiatric mental health NP workforce in Louisiana – a state with a tremendous primary care and mental health workforce deficit,” Dr. Fowler adds.
Part of a Larger Investment
HRSA, as the primary federal agency for improving health care, focuses its efforts on areas like the state of Louisiana, where high-quality health care is needed the most. The BHWET grant was established in 2014, with the understanding that health care professionals and paraprofessionals trained in community-based settings will ultimately provide health care to those same communities.
From 2014 to 2019, BHWET awardees like the School of Nursing have supported the clinical training of 16,472 graduate-level health care workers. Those BHWET-supported students have provided over 1.5 million hours of patient care in rural areas and over 4 million hours of care in medically underserved communities.
The BHWET program is expected to eliminate over 40% of the projected shortfall of behavioral health providers by 2025. By that time, it will also enhance the nation’s health workforce with thousands of new paraprofessionals in critical areas of need.
“Our first behavioral health workforce grant, Building a Behavioral Health Workforce Through Integrated Care; Training NP Students To Fill the Gap, makes us part of a national effort to improve health care treatment options in rural areas,” Dr. McNeil says.