DURHAM, N.C. – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) is investing more than $2 million to support 11 organizations across North Carolina to improve access to behavioral health care services in rural and marginalized communities and in HPSAs (Health Professional Shortage Areas). This funding initiative is part of Blue Cross NC’s statewide commitment aimed at addressing and eliminating racial, health, and geographical disparities in North Carolina and supports the company’s goal to improve access to behavioral health care in rural and underserved communities by 25% in five years.
In North Carolina, there is a severe shortage of professionals to treat both adults and children with behavioral health disorders. Behavioral health disorders include depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Out of the state’s 100 counties, 94 are considered mental health professional shortage areas[i] and 61 have no child and adolescent psychiatrist.[ii] Nationally, North Carolina ranks 38th in access to mental health care, and 52% of youth who experience a major depressive episode do not receive the treatment they need.[iii]
“A whole person approach to care includes addressing mental health needs, and treatment for these disorders is very effective[iv].” said Dr. Nora Dennis, lead medical director of behavioral health and health equity at Blue Cross NC. “No one should have to live with untreated mental illness, so it’s important that these resources get to every corner of our state. Blue Cross NC is investing in programs to help ensure rural and historically underserved communities have access to behavioral health resources that ultimately make health care better for all.”
The recipients of this funding initiative will implement multi-year plans, developed in response to Blue Cross NC’s Behavioral Health RFP, to guarantee access to high-quality, evidence-based treatment for both adults and children with behavioral health disorders across the state – especially in communities that currently have limited access to these services and that experience stigma. These behavioral health efforts will help expand access and enable system-level changes across multiple levels, including prevention, early intervention, treatment, and recovery support.
Organizations receiving funding of up to $200,000 each are:
- Catawba Valley Healthcare to increase access to integrated care for uninsured adults with a serious mental illness through hiring support for existing practitioners, using a mobile health unit to serve high-need areas, implementing marketing efforts to inform potential patients about availability of care, assisting patients with obtaining benefits through Medicaid, Medicare, and Disability, and other efforts.
- Centro Unido Latino Americano to expand its Healthy Minds initiative, which is designed to educate the Latinx community on how to lead a mentally healthy life and overcome mental obstacles. Specifically, CULA will provide staff, educator, student, and community training and will expand mental health education initiatives by hosting bilingual community health forums.
- Charlotte Community Health Clinic to expand its Primary Care Behavioral Health pilot into a full program and develop program focus areas for historically undeserved sub-populations of patients that could benefit disproportionately, including low-income children and adolescents, Hispanic women with diabetes, and patients experiencing substance abuse disorders.
- El Futuro, Inc. to improve access to care, as well as sustain and increase the workforce of bilingual providers through an innovative approach to stepped care that relies on a community network of providers and peer support, dissemination of learnings to Latinx mental health providers across the state, training for mental health professionals, and advocacy for improved reimbursement rates.
- Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation to augment and scale an existing project focused on the need to equip the behavioral health workforce to better serve children, youth, and their families in the wake of COVID-19. Efforts include adding seven additional training opportunities to a behavioral health fellowship and facilitating cross-system collaboration and support around youth mental health with quarterly trainings open to health care professionals and community supports across the state.
- North Carolina Association of Free & Charitable Clinics to support Hands of Hope Medical Clinic and the Free Clinic of Rockingham County with implementing and sustaining integrated behavioral health services. The program will train the local primary care and behavioral health workforce in behavioral health equity, behavioral health crisis response, and addressing substance use in primary care settings.
- North Carolina Central University to implement a community counseling clinic, through its Counselor Education Program, which will enhance access to counseling services for Durham and surrounding communities. The clinic will also serve as a training site for counselor education students and a research site for faculty, which will teach the principles of wellness, multicultural counseling, and social justice.
- Opportunities Industrialization Center, Inc. to enhance the recruitment of its behavioral health staff to serve Black, rural and underserved communities and patients with genetic predispositions, improve patient compliance, and enhance provider integration to modify its integrated system of care. OIC plans to hire a licensed clinical social worker associate, equip its case manager to focus and assist patients with barriers to care, and educate primary care providers and their medical assistants.
- Reintegration Support Network to utilize specially trained paraprofessional mentors to lessen the gaps in continuum of care in behavioral health treatment of youth ages 13-20 with challenges related to mental health, substance abuse, and/or involvement with the juvenile justice system. RSN will also provide ongoing training to its staff, mentors and community partners and to provide evidence-based Recovery Coach Academy certificate training to other community stakeholders.
- UNC Health Southeastern to establish its Emergency Department Peer Support Bridge Program for substance abuse treatment, which includes hiring an ED Peer Support Specialist and an addiction medicine specialist.
- Youth Villages to expand its Intercept program to the Greenville area, with services beginning in Pitt, Beaufort, Craven, Martin and Nash counties. Funds will be used to recruit, hire, and train the staff needed to begin services and to manage marketing and outreach efforts.
To learn more about Blue Cross NC’s long-standing commitment to advance health equity in North Carolina through strategic partnerships and investments, visit our website.
[ii] https://www.aacap.org/App_Themes/AACAP/Docs/Advocacy/federal_and_state_initiatives/workforce/maps/workforce-maps-all-states-2022.pdf, page 68