UA Expands Behavioral Health Services for Rural Alabama Youth

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University of Alabama is confronting the shortage of behavioral health services for youth in rural Alabama with more than $3.7 million in federal funding.

UA’s College of Human Environmental Sciences and the Center for Substance Use Research and Related Conditions in the Capstone College of Nursing are leading the program supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration. Awards from HRSA’s Rural Communities Opioid Response Program – Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health support the establishment and expansion of sustainable behavioral health care services for children and adolescents aged 5-17 years who live in rural communities, and to prevent substance misuse.

“Children and adolescents in rural communities are among the most vulnerable due to limited resources and limited access to behavioral health and substance use services,” said Dr. Deborah Casper, CHES associate professor who secured the funding. “Our goal is to promote health, opportunity, passion and equity through the development of sustainable, collaborative, community resources for children, youth and families in rural Alabama.”

The UA “Health. Opportunity. Passion. Equity.,” or H.O.P.E., project will provide evidence-based, strength-based and trauma-informed behavioral health and substance use services along the entire continuum of care, including prevention, treatment and recovery, to children and adolescents in Pickens County and surrounding areas.

By working with public school systems, the direct prevention, treatment and recovery services available through H.O.P.E. are projected to reach over 5,000 youth and families in West Alabama. The program will offer services in Pickens County the first year, adding other nearby counties over the four years of the project period.

“The H.O.P.E. project will greatly impact the community by expanding much-needed mental health services and resources to a disadvantaged adolescent population,” said Dr. Letisha Scott, CCN clinical associate professor and member of H.O.P.E. project team. Dr. Scott will oversee the screening and referral of youth attending participating schools that do not have SMART® clinics.

Training and mentorship opportunities for school personnel, professionals and paraprofessionals as well as strengthening community partnerships will increase the communities’ capacity to identify at-risk youth and provide the much-needed services that are virtually nonexistent in these rural communities.

The H.O.P.E project will work in collaboration with CSURRC whose mission is to promote the health and well-being of individuals and communities affected by substance use disorders and related conditions in Alabama and beyond.

“CSURRC is honored to support this important work, as center affiliated scientists and students continue to proactively address substance use and mental health problems in our state,” said Dr. Mercy Mumba, CSURRC director and associate professor of nursing.

Along with Casper, Scott and Mumba, the interdisciplinary team on the H.O.P.E. project includes CHES faculty Dr. Blake Berryhill, associate professor; Dr. Karly Downs, assistant professor, and Dr. Tricia Witte, associate professor; as well as Dr. Hee Yun Lee professor and Endowed Academic Chair in Social Work (Health), and Dr. Laura Hopson, associate professor in the School of Social Work; and Dr. George Mugoya, associate professor in the College of Education.