College of Social Work receives grant to improve mental health coverage in S.C.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has awarded a $1.7 million grant to the University of South Carolina College of Social Work to create a scholar program designed to expand the mental health workforce in the state. 

Each year, the Rural Interprofessional Behavioral Health Scholars Program, administered by social work faculty members Melissa Reitmeier, Aidyn Iachini and Teri Browne, will recruit 26 students who are in the last year of the MSW program. More than 100 graduate students will be trained to work in rural South Carolina during the four-year grant period.   

“This program will allow us to address the unmet needs in our state by preparing the next generation of social work practitioners for behavioral health careers,” dean Sarah Gehlert says. “The grant ultimately will identify solutions to health inequities.”

Gehlert says the program will have a lasting impact because it will target medically underserved areas of the state.

“A grant of this magnitude allows us to serve our most vulnerable populations,” the grant’s lead investigator, Melissa Reitmeier says. “Many rural health care clinics are underfunded and understaffed, which doesn’t allow follow-up with mental health patients who have been discharged from the hospital.”  

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the HRSA, estimates there will be a shortage of more than 48,000 mental health and substance abuse social workers in the country by 2025.

The master’s students, who will receive a $10,000 stipend, will have the opportunity to work with professionals across other health science disciplines such as nursing, medicine and pharmacy.

“This provides our students a rich and deep learning opportunity that mirrors current and evidence-based social work practice realities in that they occur within teams of doctors and nurses in practice setting, such as rural health clinics and schools,” says Teri Browne, co-director of the university’s Interprofessional Education Initiative.

Current rural mental health care professionals also will benefit from the program’s training says Aidyn Iachini, one of the grant’s co-investigator.

“We will have the ability to provide in-person training to existing professionals in rural areas,” Iachini says.

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