UAMS Researcher Awarded $350,000 Fellowship for Behavioral Health Telemedicine Pilot Study

By Ben Boulden

The purpose of the study is to determine if providing counseling services through telemedicine to people on probation or parole can improve their behavioral health outcomes and reduce the frequency at which they commit new offenses and return to prison or jail.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently awarded Zaller an Interdisciplinary Research Leader fellowship. His other two team members are Femina Varghese, Ph.D., a University of Central Arkansas associate professor of counseling psychology, and Ben Udochi, assistant director of Substance Use Treatment with Arkansas Community Corrections (ACC). Zaller is an associate professor in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health.

“We are developing and plan to implement a new telehealth counseling pilot project in the ACC West Memphis area office for individuals on probation or parole who have behavioral health disorders,” Zaller said. “The project will be the first of its kind to deliver telehealth-based counseling directly to probation or parole offices for folks who have very limited access to behavioral health services in their communities.”

Arkansas has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country, Zaller said. One in 44 adults in Arkansas is under some form of correctional supervision, and many of them have become involved in the criminal justice system because of behavioral health problems.

“If we can find an effective way to deliver telemedicine services in conjunction with community corrections, and we can eventually do that across the state, we will have improved access to counseling, which is a crucial component of comprehensive behavioral health treatment,” Zaller said. “If they don’t get that support, the chances they will go back to prison are much higher.”

Zaller said leaving people on probation or parole with behavioral health issues untreated not only is a detriment to them but comes with significant risks to public safety as well as high social and financial costs.

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