Serving the Underserved: Grant Allows Medaille Students to Provide Access to Mental Health Services Across WNY
By Patricia Jetty
This article first appeared in the winter 2020 issue of the Medaille magazine.
There is a lot of buzz generated these days around integrated healthcare. This approach, characterized by a high degree of collaboration and communication among mental and physical healthcare professionals, aims to meet the holistic needs of each patient.
Medaille College’s Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, led by Associate Professor and Department Chair Lynn Horne-Moyer, Ph.D., is committed to serving the Western New York (WNY) community by helping to fulfill the mental health component of integrated healthcare. While historically there has been a stigma associated with mental health, President and CEO of BestSelf Behavioral Health Howard K. Hitzel, PsyD, MPA, also a member of Medaille’s Board of Trustees, says there has been some improvements to the perception of mental health care in recent years.
“The opioid crisis, for example, has made the general public more aware that mental illness and substance abuse disorders really do affect every community and socio-economic group,” says Dr. Hitzel. “As a result, there has been a greater acceptance that many people struggle with these difficulties and that there is a significant need for treatment.”
As the stigma around mental health is broken down and the emphasis on holistic wellness grows, the industry is increasingly tasked with providing access to care for all. “The needs are greater than ever,” says Dr. Hitzel. “One in five people has a diagnosable behavioral health disorder, so it affects families in every community. More and more people are seeking treatment, but in order to provide access, we need well-trained, qualified professionals to provide services.”
This is where the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, comes in. HRSA’s Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program aims to develop and expand the behavioral health workforce serving populations in medically underserved areas, placing special emphasis on establishing or expanding clinical internship programs. The program focuses on the poorest metropolitan areas in the country. It allows for interdisciplinary training for students, faculty and field supervisors, in order to provide quality behavioral health services to communities in need.
Medaille first applied for the BHWET program grant in 2017 for its clinical mental health counseling (CMHC) master’s degree program. The College was ultimately selected to receive over $1.3 million over the course of four years, from August 2017 to August 2021, with plans to reapply if the BHWET program continues federally after that time.
Thanks to the grant, 92 CMHC students completing internships are receiving a $10,000 stipend over the course of those four academic years. Students must apply to receive the stipend, and recipients must agree to stay working within the identified areas of greatest need for a number of years after graduation. The benefit of the stipend is twofold: it allows students to spend more time focusing on their studies and training without having to take on additional jobs, and the community receives more accessible integrated healthcare.
Under the guidelines set out by the grant, CMHC students have been completing their internships at a wide range of sites within Buffalo, Rochester and the surrounding areas. Their clients include those struggling with intimate partner violence, substance use disorders or self-harm tendencies. One of these internship sites that emphasizes comprehensive clinician training and same-day access to care is BestSelf Behavioral Health’s Delaware Park Community Counseling Clinic.
Located on Medaille’s Buffalo campus, the BestSelf clinic provides close supervision and training for CMHC students working with underserved populations. “Our clinic does a lot of work serving immigrant populations and low-income families, and we place a premium on making sure services are accessible in those communities,” says Dr. Hitzel. “Poverty is a very real concern in Buffalo, and so the need for readily accessible services is significant.”
Taken together, the BestSelf clinic and the BHWET program create an opportunity for Medaille’s students to offer assistance where it is needed most. One stipend recipient who completed her internship at the BestSelf Delaware Park clinic in 2019 is Stefie Massara ’19. “Something I heard from several of my clients was that they felt the clinic and I advocated for them much more than their previous providers,” she says.
Massara primarily worked with chronically mentally ill clients battling schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or personality disorders. She hopes to continue working with a behavioral health agency in the future. “My experience was incredibly helpful in my development as a counselor, and having support from the grant provided many of my classmates and I some reprieve from financial stress,” she says. “In return, this greatly affects the community we serve. Having personal concerns alleviated allows us to be more present in each session, and this is especially vital for clinicians working with underserved populations who have previously received little or no assistance.”
Clinical Assistant Professor and Psychology Program Director Michele Bauman ’08 is another CMHC alumna. The former clinical training coordinator for the CMHC program, Bauman has seen how the field placements under the BHWET program have expanded student opportunities and reinforced their calling as mental health professionals. “The grant suggests to our students that this particular work within underserved populations is really the mission of what we do as clinicians,” she says.
CMHC alumni and students confirm that sentiment. “Being selected to receive the stipend helped me to see the importance of mental health in urban areas,” says Patrice Anderson ’19, who completed her internship at Rochester Rehabilitation Center. The agency serves 2,500 people in the Rochester area living with disabilities or behavioral health issues.
“I worked with clients from the Salvation Army’s addiction treatment ARC program, and it showed me a different side to mental health,” she says. “Through the BHWET program, I was able to assist clients who I probably would not have been able to reach otherwise. It was valuable training, because I am currently working with a similar population dealing with serious and persistent mental illness.”
Another stipend recipient Colton Rodgers is currently completing an internship through August 2020 at Genesee Community College (GCC). “GCC is a truly spectacular micro-representation of the population that exists within WNY, and we attend to individuals of various cultures and ethnicities.” says Rodgers. “The unique array of clientele directly embodies the diverse population I hope to serve through my ministry as a counselor following graduation.”
Rodgers says that the grant afforded him a meaningful opportunity to serve a region of WNY that was not necessarily within his immediate consideration. “I now have the means to travel to a largely neglected area to provide mental health resources to individuals who would otherwise be unable to access clinics or hospitals. Through the therapy provided, I have seen suffering diminish, fundamental needs met and the stigma that prevails against mental health gradually reduced.”
In addition to the direct student and client benefits, the BHWET grant helps fund workshops to provide training to students, faculty, alumni, site supervisors and other WNY clinicians in areas like integrated healthcare and safety in behavioral health. The money also covers student memberships to professional organizations like the New York Mental Health Counselors Association, allows students and faculty to attend conferences, and has helped expand the CMHC curriculum.
With the assistance of the grant, Medaille’s CMHC students are able to provide holistic mental health services to many of the individuals and communities with the greatest need in WNY. Additionally, this impact would not be possible without the leadership provided by Assistant Clinical Professor and Director of Medaille’s BHWET Program Marguerite M. McCarty, Ed.D., LMHC, and Assistant Professor Donald E. Nowak, Jr., Ph.D., CRC, the education director under the grant. The fact that several stipend recipients have been hired at their placement sites before they even graduated is a testament to the impact they are making in the lives of their clients.
“Hoping to make a difference is why we all go into this field,” says Massara. “So seeing how the work we do as clinicians really does help others is a tremendous and rewarding motivator.”
Pictured left to right are CMHC students and BestSelf interns Monica Ocasio, Hannah Braun, Madeline Ryan, Hannah Spaulding, Stephanie Massara and Danielle Frazone.
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