South Receives Grant to Expand Behavioral Health Services and Workforce


Posted on September 10, 2021
Joy Washington


The Colleges of Nursing, Arts and Sciences, and Education and Professional Studies at the University of South Alabama, have joined forces to better serve at-risk youth and teens who are dealing with mental health issues in Mobile and surrounding areas. From left are interprofessional team members Dr.Candice Selwyn, research assistant professor in Nursing; Dr. Kimberly Williams, associate professor in Nursing and project director for the grant; Dr. Shanda Scott, assistant professor in Nursing and director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and Dr. Kimberly Zlomke,co-project director and professor in Arts and Sciences. Not pictured are Dr. Yvette Qualls Getch, co-project director and professor in Education and Professional Studies; Dr. Kirsten E. Pancione, project coordinator and assistant professor in Nursing; Dr. Bettina Riley, associate professor in Nursing, and Dr. Brian David Johnson, assistant professor in Nursing. data-lightbox='featured'
The Colleges of Nursing, Arts and Sciences, and Education and Professional Studies at the University of South Alabama, have joined forces to better serve at-risk youth and teens who are dealing with mental health issues in Mobile and surrounding areas. From left are interprofessional team members Dr.Candice Selwyn, research assistant professor in Nursing; Dr. Kimberly Williams, associate professor in Nursing and project director for the grant; Dr. Shanda Scott, assistant professor in Nursing and director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and Dr. Kimberly Zlomke,co-project director and professor in Arts and Sciences. Not pictured are Dr. Yvette Qualls Getch, co-project director and professor in Education and Professional Studies; Dr. Kirsten E. Pancione, project coordinator and assistant professor in Nursing; Dr. Bettina Riley, associate professor in Nursing, and Dr. Brian David Johnson, assistant professor in Nursing.

The University of South Alabama College of Nursing has received a $1.8 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to expand and improve mental health services for at-risk youth and teens in Mobile and the Gulf Coast region, and help address a shortage in the behavioral health workforce.

The four-year grant from HRSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will provide specialized training experiences and expand the Gulf Coast Region’s Team-Based Trauma-Informed Integrated Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program for Professionals, which aims to increase the supply of behavioral health professionals and increase access to behavioral health services.

The grant will provide training that enhances interprofessional team-based skills and knowledge during the last year of graduate education. Teaming up with the College of Nursing to achieve the grant’s goals are USA’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Education and Professional Studies.

This interprofessional team consists of faculty from the master’s of nursing psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program, the clinical & counseling psychology program in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the clinical mental health counseling programs in the College of Education and Professional Studies.

The interprofessional leadership team is led by Dr. Kimberly Zlomke, co-project director and professor of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Yvette Qualls Getch, co-project director and professor in the College of Education and Professional Studies. The team will collaborate to carry out the grant’s goals, according to Dr. Kimberly Williams, associate professor and project director for the grant. 

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our students to gain trauma-informed integrated behavioral health training,” Williams stated. “They will work in underserved and rural communities.”

The project will provide stipends for the students from each academic program who apply and are selected to receive training through an interdisciplinary curriculum. The curriculum will include courses focused on team-based integrated care, telehealth, trauma-informed care, and social determinants of health. In addition to these courses, stipend students will be placed in integrated/telehealth clinical training settings in medically underserved areas in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana.

“Mental health disorders are a widespread problem,” Williams said. “Studies show that early onset of mental disorders negatively impacts morbidity, such as the quality of life and mortality. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources estimates an annual impact $400 billion, and the projected worldwide impact could be as high as $16 trillion by 2030.” 

According to the data from the National Institute for Mental Health, our country’s behavioral health workforce has limited reach in diverse populations. As stated by the American Psychiatric Association, diverse racial/ethnic people are less likely to receive mental health care; among those receiving care, 48 percent were Caucasian, 31 percent were Black and Hispanic, and 22 percent were Asian. 

“Due to the challenges of providing culturally competent mental health care in communities of color and among other populations, culturally responsive training is needed to take care of individuals in a caring and compassionate way,” Williams said. 

Williams also stated the project will help increase access to care for all people.

 “The integration of primary settings is an effective method for meeting some of these unmet mental health needs,” Williams explained. “By working within the system with primary care providers, patients and families will interact with an interdisciplinary team to support their needs. We are also working to improve cost-effective patient-centered care.”

The project also will help provide education and work to remove the stigma around mental health, and increase the low number of mental health providers in the Gulf Coast region.

The USA interprofessional team of the Gulf Coast Region’s Trauma Center will continue its partnership with Project ECHO®, the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, which is part of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. This life-long learning model is considered a collaborative model connecting health care professionals to discuss complex conditions and issues via video conferencing.

The deans of the Colleges of Nursing, Arts and Sciences, and Education and Professional Studies at South Alabama, said they look forward to the benefits of this collaborative effort.

“I am pleased the USA College of Nursing is leading the collaboration of an interprofessional team of faculty and healthcare providers to expand the Gulf Coast Region’s Trauma-Informed Integrated Behavioral Health Workforce," said Dr. Heather Hall, dean of the College of Nursing.

“We are pleased to be a partner in this collaborative effort. The support from the BHWET program will expand the experiential training opportunities of the CCP programs and will create much needed integrated behavioral health practice locations in the Mobile community,” said Dr. Andrzej Wierzbicki, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The interdisciplinary nature of this program, with the participation of three colleges, will greatly benefit USA students and the patients in our community.”

“This funding will allow us to create additional practicum and internship placements for students in the clinical mental health counseling program within the College of Education and Professional Studies as well as the clinical and counseling psychology program, which is shared between the College of Arts and Sciences and CEPS,” said Dr. John E. Kovaleski, interim dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies. “These students will have the opportunity to learn in an interdisciplinary environment while also helping to bridge the unmet mental health needs of some of the region's most vulnerable citizens."

The team members for this project, along with Williams, are: Dr. Kimberly Zlomke, co-project director, College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Yvette Qualls Getch, co-project director, College of Education and Professional Studies; Dr. Kirsten E. Pancione, project coordinator, College of Nursing; Dr. Shanda Scott, College of Nursing; Dr. Bettina Riley, College of Nursing; Dr. Candice Selwyn, College of Nursing; and Dr. Brian David Johnson, College of Nursing

Disclosure: This program is supported by the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling approximately $1.8 million with zero percentage financed with nongovernmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by HRSA, HHS or the U. S. Government. 


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