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ARC summit examines mental health workforce

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal - 9/17/2018

Sept. 17--TUPELO -- The epidemic of deaths from opioid overdose deaths has strained an already stretched mental health workforce.

At the Appalachian Works summit held in Tupelo last week, one expert panel shared insights and resources on ways to expand the behavioral health workforce.

An Appalachian Regional Commission report found that the 13-state region has significantly fewer mental health professionals per capita than the rest of the country. As a region, it has seen opioid-related deaths at significantly higher rates than the rest of the country.

"It's multifaceted challenge that requires a multifaceted approach," said Andrew Howard, ARC policy adviser, who served as the moderator.

Clarion University in Pennsylvania developed a four-course online opioid specialist certificate program to help the mental health workforce ramp up its expertise in response to opioid crisis.

"We were hearing from agencies, 'We don't have the resources,'" said Ray Feroz, professor and chairman for the Clarion University department of human services, rehabilitation and sport sciences.

The university drew expertise from its nursing, psychology, social work and rehabilitation faculty, and from the community to create the curriculum, Feroz said. The program was launched in Fall 2017 has been tremendously well received.

There's no prerequisites for the program beyond a high school diploma, opening the program to a wider audience, Feroz said.

ARC served as a partner to create scholarship funding to assist professionals who otherwise couldn't access the training.

Communities can leverage programs from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to expand mental health, as well as primary care and dental services.

The agency focuses on telehealth, rural and underserved regions and community-based training for health professionals. It offers loan repayment programs for health professionals who agree to serve in rural and underserved areas for a set number of years.

"We want to retain them beyond the obligation," said said Monica Harrington, public health analyst with HRSA, who serves as the state lead for Mississippi with the Bureau of Health Workforce.

There are programs aimed at expanding access to mental health services in primary care clinics.

A new program is focusing on making medication-assisted treatment more widely available. It offers loan repayment for physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, substance use disorder counselors and masters level behavioral health counselors.

Dr. Yesie Yoon, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Birmingham, Alabama, spoke about how the ARC's J-1 Visa Waiver program made it possible for her to serve in a critically underserved state. It's been a good fit for her professionally and personally.

Communities don't have to recruit overseas to reach young psychiatrists, Yoon said.

"A lot of psychiatry residency slots (in the United States) are filled by foreign medical grads," Yoon said.

Having adequate mental health resources for youth and young adults can be an important facet of preventing substance abuse.

"Not all people with substance abuse disorders have underlying mental health (issues), but there is a lot of overlap," Yoon said.


(c)2018 the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo, Miss.)

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