When Des Moines University announced a bold proposal this fall to address the shortage of mental health professionals in Iowa through a partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental health advocates took note.
Des Moines Register columnist Kathie Obradovich wrote enthusiastically about a provider program DMU is developing with NAMI, and gubernatorial candidates at a December forum held at DMU underscored the need for more primary health care providers with an understanding of mental health.
In the audience for that forum was Suzanne Mineck, president of the Mid-Iowa Health Foundation. She and her board members recognized how well this project aligned with the Foundation’s goals to encourage system-level change work around the most critical care needs. The Foundation stepped up and today announced a lead gift of $50,000 to help launch the DMU Provider Education Project.
“We are pleased to support this critical work for our community and state and believe this program is an essential and meaningful step to providing responsive and informed mental health care and reducing stigma,” Mineck says.
The pilot, which will launch in June of 2018, will engage 40-50 DMU students who have indicated a preference for serving in Iowa back for an intensive three-day provider education program. Used at the Menninger Clinic, a leading psychiatric hospital in Houston, the program entails 15 hours of didactic and experiential learning. It is designed to transform the ways psychiatric care is delivered by increasing students’ comfort level and compassion in working with individuals with mental illness, fostering clinical empathy for patients and their families, and countering stigmas.
NAMI will provide program facilitators, materials, and certification; DMU will provide the physicians, space and research in the program implementation and share the research findings with other states and medical institutions. DMU is seeking a public-private partnership to establish the program as an ongoing requirement for third-year students following their clinical rotations.
“We know from our recent Community Health Needs Assessment that improving access and quality of mental healthcare is a top priority, and that expanding mental health training for primary care providers is of critical importance,” says Joseph Jones, a Mid-Iowa Health Foundation board member. “There is not a simple solution to address this challenge, but programs such as the NAMI Provider Program are an important step in the right direction, leading to a more holistic approach to healthcare and early intervention and prevention.”
Iowa ranks 48th in the nation in the number of psychiatrists per capita. Of our 99 counties, 89 are designated as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in mental health. For Iowans in need of inpatient psychiatric care, the situation is even worse: There were just two state psychiatric beds per 100,000 residents in 2016, placing Iowa last in the country. The state will never have enough psychiatrists, but by further educating primary care physicians how to recognize, diagnose and manage mental illnesses, we can certainly accelerate the process of delivering the vital care needed to those in need.
“We are all so appreciative of this support which allows us to move forward with the pilot,” says DMU President Angela Walker Franklin, Ph.D. “Mid-Iowa Health Foundation shows it’s commitment to transformative and innovative approaches to healthcare and workforce issues with this award. I am so proud of the leadership provided by Dr. Lisa Streyffeler and her faculty [in Behavioral Medicine, Medical Humanities and Bioethics] as well as Sue Huppert [VP of External and Governmental Affiars] and other members of the team to make this project a reality.”