Professor receives $1.1 million grant to help refugees, Latinx and immigrant

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration awarded $1.1 million to a psychology professor to help medically underserved communities in the Richmond area gain access to mental health services.

Heather Jones, associate professor in the School of Psychology received “The VCU Primary Care Psychology Training Collaborative: Expanding Services with Underserved Youth, Latinx Immigrants, and Refugees.” VCU’s Primary Care Psychology Training Collaborative currently provides free mental health services for patients.

The grant will expand the collaborative’s services with African American children, Latinx families and refugees in the greater Richmond region. It will also allow for more doctoral students to be trained in the provision of care, add doctoral clinicians to the collaborative’s existing sites and for supervisors to take part in interprofessional trainings.

Additionally, the collaborative seeks to increase the number of underrepresented mental health professionals who are trained to enter the behavioral health workforce. Students will be equipped to work in hospitals and other primary care settings and gain an understanding of how to work with doctors, nurses, social workers and other members of the integrated health care team.

Stephanie Wilson, a third-year doctoral student and a behavioral health clinician with the collaborative, said she believes those are vital settings for addressing barriers to mental health treatment for underserved populations that would not otherwise seek out treatment from traditional mental health settings.

“It’s making a huge difference, not only for patients in primary care with mental health needs who have barriers to treatment such as cost and access,” Wilson said. “But also for doctoral student trainees on this grant who can learn how to deliver brief, short-term treatment for underserved populations.”

Jones said their hope is to be able to provide brief mental health care to those in need of targeted treatment, like behavior problems, sleep problems, anxiety and depression for patients who might not need to seek out more in-depth care. For patients who need more services than what the collaborative can provide, they will be placed on a waitlist and continue to be seen by VCU’s representatives while they wait to be seen elsewhere in the community.

“There is a significant health disparity regarding the mental health care of children and adults in the Richmond area,” Jones said. “Specifically, individuals who are lower income and racial or ethnic minorities are less likely to receive mental health care. Thus, by placing mental or behavioral health services in primary care settings, where they do go, we are reducing a barrier to mental health care.”

Montse Fuentes, the dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at VCU, said the impact of this partnership will lead to improved patient outcomes and enhancement of the success of our students through community engagement learning.

“Dr. Jones’s collaborative grant … is a leading exemplar of our commitment to our mission as College of Humanities and Sciences to both teaching and research, with a focus on impactful research that has a positive impact on our Richmond community,” Fuentes said. “This initiative is a testament of our wholehearted College commitment to our community and unreserved enthusiasm to provide our students with real-world learning experiences.”

If VCU students obtain medical care at one of the clinics, they are eligible for the collaborative’s services. Sites that the collaborative serve currently include the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, Hayes E. Willis Family Medicine Clinic, CrossOver Healthcare Ministry and the Daily Planet and Health Brigade.

Nia Tariq, Contributing Writer

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