SIUE received a $1.8 million grant to launch the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, which is a partnership between social work and nursing, intended to boost the number of mental health professionals in rural and underserved areas. 

Melissa Bogle, assistant professor with the Graduate School of Nursing, said the grant is a federal grant that funds the development of training programs that serve rural or underserved populations from a behavioral health perspective. SIUE’s program is going to give sponsorships to students seeking their master’s in a social work degree or their psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner degree. 

“It’s going to give them monetary support so that they can complete the program and hopefully really be able to dedicate their time to learning versus having to do things like work externally and look for funding sources elsewhere,” Bogle said. “And it’s also going to provide a lot of educational opportunities for those people, above and beyond what they did in their normal education, where they’ll get to network with community partners, they’ll get to hear from experts in the field and they’ll get rotations in some specialized areas.” 

Bogle said she and Jayme Swanke, associate professor in the department of social work and graduate program director for the master’s of social work program, had to provide statistics about rural Illinois and SIUE’s student population to the Health Resources and Services Administration to qualify for the grant. 

“Not only do we serve underserved people in most of Illinois, but we also have students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students who have historically gone on to work in those settings after graduation,” Bogle said. 

Swanke said the grant is intended to boost the number of mental health providers in underserved and rural areas. 

“HRSA’s research shows that as students complete internships or clinical rotations or practicums they’ve been in these settings that are typically underserved, high-need, rural areas, that students, when they go there, they will stay there,” Swanke said. “So the goal is by establishing these community partnerships between SIUE and these community partners, that students who go and complete their practicum and clinical requirements there will then be hired on … keeping that knowledge and skill base within these areas that really need mental health professionals.”

Bogle said the grant is also intended to increase the number of mental health professionals by increasing the number of people who can complete the program without significant financial burden.

“Through funding and giving stipends, we’re helping support students who may not be able to do this training any other way,” Bogle said.  

Swanke said the grant may allow new professionals to be of service to these communities by easing their financial burdens, as specifically in social work, many community mental health agencies aren’t able to pay them lots of money starting out. 

“For a student that’s able to get a chunk of money to maybe pay down student loans or to help support themselves so they don’t have to take out additional loans to get through graduate school, that sets them up to be able to take a position that maybe is not going to be as lucrative starting out, but be of great service to the community and the profession,” Swanke said.  

Rebecca Luebbert, associate professor and department chair of the School of Nursing, said there is a lack of mental health care services in certain communities because there aren’t as many services or providers available. 

“I think the providers that are there may not have as many resources, they’re not as connected,” Luebbert said. “So I think this is a great opportunity to go and partner with those communities and with those agencies to provide that support.” 

Swanke said there is a shortage of mental health professionals, partially due to increased demand. 

“We have more people that are seeking out services coming off of the last 18 months, people being socially isolated, losing jobs, dealing with the loss of family, whether it’s death or severe illness or just separation, people’s support system hasn’t been there,” Swanke said. “So we’re seeing more and more people reach out for those services, and we just need more professionals in all spaces of health care and mental health care to help absorb that influx.”

Bogle said another contribution to the shortage is that there’s been a lot of professionals aging out of the practice. 

“People who provide those care services, they’re getting older, they’re retiring. There’s not as many new people coming in to fill the gaps,” Bogle said. 

Swanke said Bogle reached out to her because the grant had to be interprofessional. Bogle said the intersection between social work and nursing is the result of turning the focus away from just what is physically wrong with an individual to a more holistic approach. 

“We talk about the social determinants of health and that means there’s a lot of factors that go into your health, not just your biology, not just your weight, but also, where do you live? Are you employed? Do you have the finances to take good care of your health? Is it a clean environment, is it safe? That’s where nursing and social work interact,” Bogle said. 

Swanke said trauma doesn’t just affect an individual’s emotional and mental health wellbeing, but their physical health too. 

“Those people tend to have higher rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes and heart disease and cancers and chronic health problems that then we’re seeing these emotional traumas play out in a very different way,” Swanke said. “In social work, we tend to see literally the same people in different pipelines.”

Luebbert said partnering with social work is needed because having social work and nursing work together can provide comprehensive care. 

“I just think it gives the communities, the patients that we serve, the best chance, the best opportunity for treatment when you have a team-based approach,” Luebbert said. 

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