UM program looks to grow behavioral health services in rural settings

A $1.8 million grant awarded this month to Montana’s two flagship universities will help the state provide better access to mental health care in rural settings and develop the workforce needed to fill what’s often described as a critical lack of care.

The University of Montana’s Department of Psychology, in partnership with Montana State University, made the Health Resources and Services Administration grant public on Monday.

“It’s incredibly important,” said Bryan Cochran, professor of clinical training at UM. “We’ve got one of the highest suicide rates in the nation and people experience a lot of barriers in accessing care in rural areas.”

Cochran described the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program as a push to integrate behavioral health services into primary care clinics that serve rural areas and underserved populations.

That includes a large swath of Montana outside the key urban areas.

“The goal is to train more providers equipped to go into rural settings and provide that integrated health service in settings that already exist,” Cochran said. “We want to make sure more people have access to treatment and more providers are trained to work on interdisciplinary teams.”

Aided by the grant, UM graduate students working to become advanced practitioners in behavioral health will receive funding to provide their services in rural sites, including clinical psychology, social work, counseling and nursing.

Cochran said UM will also sponsor a convention on training students in the field, and it will host workshops to ensure those students are getting the most out of their placement in rural clinics.

“We’ve been working as a team for this, and it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for our students and is important to people in Montana,” Cochran said. “This is all about people getting their mental health care needs met.”

Collaborators on the team include Cochran, Mary-Ann Bowman from UM’s School of Social Work, and John Sommers-Flanagan from UM’s Department of Counselor Education.

Rebecca Bourret from MSU’s Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing program is a member of the collaboration.