$2.7 Million NIH Grant to Improve Mental Health in Community Health Centers

By Nate Hinkel

The National Institute of Mental Health grant will be used to develop a partnership among researchers in the UAMS Department of Psychiatry and the CHCA, which delivers primary care and other health care services to more than141,000 Arkansans living in medically underserved areas across the state.

The partnership will promote evidence-based mental health practices by primary care providers at the centers to screen and diagnose patients with bipolar disorders and alcohol abuse and link them to psychiatric care.

Patients with bipolar disorder fluctuate between manic and depressive states, complicating an accurate diagnosis. Alcohol abuse complicates the treatment of depression and mania, so providers will be screening for at-risk drinking and delivering brief interventions to reduce alcohol consumption using motivational interviewing techniques.

Mouden, chief executive officer of CHCA, said mental health disorders are common among community health center patients as in any primary care settings. However, many patients end up being referred to other providers because of the lack of psychiatrists and psychologists in the rural and inner city areas served by the centers.

“This partnership will allow Community Health Centers to harness the technology and resources that UAMS possesses in ways that uniquely meet the needs of each local community health center,” Mouden said.

Curran, associate director of the UAMS Department of Psychiatry’s Division of Health Services Research, said it can take many years for a newly developed medical treatment to be adopted into routine care.

“And some highly effective treatments never get routinely adopted,” Curran said, “therefore we need to develop better methods to translate the results from clinical trials into routine practice.”

Fortney, director of the UAMS Division of Health Services Research, said the partnership builds on a successful National Institutes of Mental Health grant to improve depression outcomes in Arkansas community health centers.

“A highly innovative component of this study is that instead of conducting the evaluation ourselves, UAMS researchers will train and mentor community health center staff to collect and analyze their own evaluation data,” Fortney said.

When the study ends, the community health centers will be able to conduct quality improvement activities and apply the knowledge learned to other illnesses. This capacity to adapt, adopt and evaluate new treatments will allow the centers to prosper in an era of health care reform.

“Community health centers are critical sources of quality care for rural Arkansans who live in medically underserved areas and often have difficulty accessing health care,” said U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln. “This investment will help Arkansas’ rural health care professionals provide the best care for mental health patients.”

Community Health Centers of Arkansas Inc. (CHCA), Arkansas’ primary care association, is a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop and protect the resources that ensure quality health care for all. CHCA represents the state’s 12 Federally Qualified Community Health Centers that serve more than 141,000 Arkansans through 70 health care delivery sites. CHCA facilitates shared resources, collaborative partnerships, technical assistance and training focused on helping Community Health Centers strengthen and expand its services. Visit www.chc-ar.org.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Related Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a 540,000-square-foot hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and six institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. UAMS has 2,775 students and 748 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or uamshealth.com.