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Behavioral health gets answer to missing piece – data

Published: January 10, 2022 Author: Staff reports

Four organizations with a history of expertise in their fields have announced a collaborative effort to develop a report that identifies areas of racial and ethnic inequity in Ohio’s community behavioral health system and makes recommendations on strategies that can be used to address the inequities.

The four partners in this work will include:

  • Central State University (CSU), Ohio's only public Historically Black College or University (HBCU), a regionally-accredited 1890 Land-Grant Institution with a tradition of preparing students from diverse backgrounds and experiences for leadership, research and service. The University fosters academic excellence within a nurturing environment and provides a strong liberal arts and science foundation. Central State University faculty and staff set a new school record in sponsored research and external funding by garnering $26.7 million during the 2020-21 fiscal year.
  • Mental Health & Addiction Advocacy Coalition (MHAC), a nonprofit policy and advocacy organization that works with its diverse 130+ member organizations throughout Ohio to increase awareness of mental health and addiction issues and advocate for policies and strategies that support effective, well-funded services, systems, and supports.
  • Multiethnic Advocates for Cultural Competence, Inc. (MACC), a Columbus, Ohio-based nonprofit that works to transform systems and institutions by providing cultural competence training, assessments, and certification toward reducing racism and disparity and creating equity in Ohio’s behavioral health systems.
  • Ohio University (OHIO), Ohio’s oldest public university with 11 campuses and centers across the state of Ohio and more than 250 academic programs. OHIO’s strong research presence drives national and global solutions; the University received more than $62 million in research funding in 2019. The OHIO Alliance for Population Health will also provide vital data gathering and analysis support.

The cornerstone of this research project is data. Historically, the gathering and coordination of data that quantify by race and ethnicity those who are impacted by inequities in behavioral health has been lacking.

“Ohio is a very diverse state and offering any service including behavioral health services and supports requires identification and understanding of the population being served, and in Ohio, that is not a monolithic community,” MACC Executive Director Tracy Maxwell Heard said.

MHAC Executive Director Joan Englund added, “The key to developing a response is to first fully understand the issues and needs. The four partners will use their collective experience and relationships to identify and gather existing data and also to identify what data we need that is not currently available.” Once data is identified, project partners will review and assess it to confirm or refute the hypothesis that there are racial and ethnic disparities in behavioral health. They will also identify examples of the negative impact disparities have on individuals with mental illnesses or addiction disorders and the behavioral health system.

“An evidence-based approach is integral for policy-making aimed at addressing the needs of underserved populations. This partnership is an exciting opportunity to examine data that speak to health-disparities and access to care in the state of Ohio,” said Dr. Omesh Johar, Interim Chair of Social and Behavioral Sciences at CSU.

Dr. Jonathan Trauth, Interim Director of Social Work at CSU, reiterated the importance of having individuals from minority groups and minority-focused institutions co-leading this type of project.

“As a social worker with 15 years of experience I am aware of challenges faced by inner-city populations, especially youth. I am eager to contribute my knowledge and experience to this project,” Trauth said.

Beginning in late 2022, the partnership will release a report in a series of installments that will 1) present gaps that exist between data that is needed and what is available, 2) provide an analysis of existing data, and 3) outline equitable strategies for responding to disparities. In addition, the report will recommend which data stakeholders should maintain and track going forward in order to improve racial equity in behavioral health treatment, services and supports.

“The OHIO Alliance for Population Health is home to an extensive partner network with experts in health policy, delivery, behavioral health and data analysis,” said College of Health Sciences and Professions Interim Dean Dr. John McCarthy. “Our team is proud to be part of an effort that provides opportunities to not only inform future treatment and services needs, but help to uncover possible big picture issues across the behavioral health workforce, services and funding areas.”

This historic collaboration will result in the collection and analysis of existing and newly collected data, both critical pieces of the puzzle required to address and eliminate disparity in Ohio’s behavioral health system in a time when more residents are finding themselves in distress and all are deserving of equitable service and better outcomes.