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University News | 11.12.19

Innovation in Community Mental Health Services

Adler Community Health Services (ACHS) was awarded a federal grant in August to promote innovation and increase access for its trauma-informed behavioral health and substance use treatment services.

The award, which will be given out over three years, is provided by the Human Resources and Services Administration’s Graduate Psychology Education Program, which emphasizes prevention and treatment services in high-need and high-demand areas.

“This is a groundbreaking grant that will enable us to expand the essential mental health services we are able to provide to marginalized communities,” said Kevin Osten-Garner, Psy.D., Executive Director of ACHS. “It will allow our community partners to increase their mental health and substance use treatment capacity to serve more people. In addition, we are training doctoral psychology interns how to work collaboratively with health professionals to provide truly holistic care.”

The grant will support three new types of services—telebehavioral health services; interprofessional practice; and Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) at three community partners in Chicago: Near North Health Services, St. Leonard’s Ministries, and Thresholds.

These patient-centered and solution-based services offer innovative ways to help reduce common barriers to care and improve mental health care services for underresourced communities.

For example, telebehavioral health services will provide access to therapy for individuals regardless of their location. This will increase access to care for many patients, including those who have medical mobility issues or little access to transportation. It will also provide residential access to family therapy to help improve the reintegration to family life for some patients.

Interprofessional practice is the integration of medical professionals working together to provide holistic care for patients, eliminating the burden of needing the time and transportation to visit each individual practitioner. It also helps ensure that patients receive the services they require. “In a single visit, instead of just meeting with your primary care doctor, the doctor is joined by a dietician, a behavioral health clinician, or other health care professionals to ensure we are providing the best and most comprehensive services possible,” Osten-Garner said.

SBIRT is an evidence-based practice that identifies, reduces, and helps prevent substance abuse. All people seeking medical attention will be screened for substance use problems that might have gone undetected otherwise. If needed, ACHS interns will intervene immediately to assess the patient’s willingness to change and will provide immediate and short-term counseling to reduce substance use. The SBIRT model is currently used for people who have experienced trauma and will now be applied to substance use to quickly and effectively assess and help patients.

This grant will benefit ACHS student trainees who will learn to apply innovative and collaborative care in partnership with community agencies. In turn, it will help agencies like Thresholds, which provides care, employment, advocacy, and housing for people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders to advance the quality of and access to care for underresourced communities.

“Thresholds deeply values having a high-impact partnership with ACHS,” said Tim Devitt, Associate Vice President at Thresholds. “Our target population presents with a high level of complexity, including severe and persistent mental illness, severe courses of substance use disorder, and chronic medical conditions. The innovative psychological services provided through our partnership with ACHS, especially the integration of mental health, substance use, and medical care, is critically important to helping our clients initiate and sustain long-term recovery.”

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under D40HP33335, Graduate Psychology Education Programs, $1.35 million over three years. The grant funds 45% of the Division of Community Health’s budget. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official policy or position of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government.

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