Through an $8.3 million award that resulted from the medical settlement following the BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster, the School of Social Work at The University of Southern Mississippi is helping to integrate mental and behavioral health into a primary care medical facility.
These integrated health efforts are being provided through a partnership with Coastal Family Health Centers, a federally qualified health center. Coastal Family Health operates 13 clinics across the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The award has allowed the School of Social Work to employ seven licensed social workers and approximately 10 students in the master of social work (MSW) program at Southern Miss.
The staff and students support the delivery of integrated mental and behavioral health services in five Coastal Family Health Center clinics in Harrison and Hancock counties. As a result of this program, 300 – 400 patients per month receive mental and behavioral health services in their primary care clinics.
Each week, MSW students in their second year of practicum spend between two and three days in the clinic. These students will accumulate at least 600 hours in this unique clinical setting. For taking part in the program, students earn a scholarship and a stipend for their clinical placement.
“This model of patient care represents an opportunity to help Mississippi residents address their physical conditions, and at the same time on the same visit, begin to address what are often the mental and behavioral health issues that accompany physical illness,” said Dr. Tim Rehner, director and professor in the Southern Miss School of Social Work and principal investigator for the grant.
Known as the Mississippi Integrated Health and Disaster Program (MIHDP), the program serves as a concurrent benefit to both south Mississippi residents and the university’s graduate students. Mississippi residents receive the care they need to treat and understand their physical and mental behavioral health needs, while students are learning firsthand how to integrate health and mental health within one clinical setting.
“This is a new approach to healthcare,” said Michelle Brazeal, social work instructor and the program’s director. “This is a unique opportunity not previously available to our students. In addition to improving the health of coastal residents our students are developing professional skills that will be essential in the health delivery systems in Mississippi and across the country.”
The Gulf Region Health Outreach Program is the committee which coordinates the activities of the medical settlement across the four coastal states of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. The School of Social Work’s Mississippi Integrated Health and Disaster Program was funded through 2017. The award to the Southern Miss School of Social Work was the only mental and behavioral health effort implemented in the state of Mississippi.
“The School of Social Work is not only teaching skills related to integrated health and care coordination in the classroom, but is very practically making the application of knowledge that can improve the quality of life for Mississippi residents,” said Rehner. “There are practical ways of taking what we know and improving the health and well-being of the local community. This is a benefit for everyone – those receiving our services, our students, Coastal Family Health Center and the university.”
For more information about the Southern Miss School of Social Work, visit www.usm.edu/social-work.