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OHIO Alliance for Population Health creating a southern Ohio behavioral health corridor

With a goal of expanding and strengthening the behavioral health workforce across the state, the Ohio Alliance for Population Health (OAPH) recently received $669,843 of a $1 million Miami University grant that will establish a behavioral health corridor across southern Ohio by providing enhanced support for students pursuing behavioral health professions.

The grant will provide substantial financial support for students at all levels of participation, from high school sophomores to graduate students. It includes scholarship funds, living expense stipends, and paid experiential placements to support behavioral health students and meet a glaring need for the services provided by behavioral health professionals in the region, where providers often have waitlists and specialist care can require time-consuming travel.

“The need for behavioral health services in southern and Appalachian Ohio continues to outpace workforce growth,” said Justin Wheeler, assistant professor of instruction in Ohio University’s College of Health Science Professions (CHSP). “Diversifying pathways into the workforce and providing support for workers to continue their education enhances the system’s ability to address behavioral health and its social determinants in homes, clinics, libraries, schools, and communities across the region.”

Key findings from an Appalachian Regional Commission report indicate that the supply of mental health providers per 100,000 population in Appalachian Ohio is 51 percent lower than the national average and 41 percent lower than the average in non-Appalachian Ohio.

Training for high school students to become community health workers will also be included as part of a career pathway.

“The shortage of behavioral health professionals in southern and Appalachian Ohio is not just a statistic, it is a crisis that is leaving individuals and families without the support and care they need,” said Caitlyn Riederer, Interim Managing Director of Human Resources at Integrated Services for Behavioral Health. “The behavioral health corridor can provide students with the necessary support and resources to enter the behavioral health professions. [This] is not just an investment in their futures, but in the well-being of our communities.”

A health corridor is defined as two or more organizations that share resources and collaborate on an action plan to tackle a health-related issue. The Southern Ohio behavioral health corridor is a partnership between Ohio University, Miami University and five two-year colleges across southern Ohio, funded by the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

Kerri Shaw, associate professor of instruction in CHSP, served as the principal investigator for the grant application.

“This is an exciting collaboration across southern Ohio to expand and strengthen the behavioral health workforce,” Shaw said. “We know that the need is great, and that students in rural areas have unique barriers to education.”

Generally, behavioral health refers to the aspects of health that contribute to mental health and the related physical symptoms. Practitioners focus on how action affects physical and psychological well-being. People in the behavioral health workforce are involved in the treatment or prevention of mental health and substance use disorders.

OAPH will also focus on outreach to individuals who left school but are close to completing. A crucial part of the effort to strengthen the behavioral health workforce will be encouraging those students who have an unfinished degree and those who will stay in the region to complete their education and provide behavioral health services in rural communities.

The OAPH is a statewide collaborative group focused on improving the health of all Ohioans. It works to combine the resources and expertise of administrators, healthcare practitioners, academic researchers and policy experts from Ohio University and more than 50 affiliated universities, hospital associations and healthcare providers to solve complex and pressing population health concerns across the state.

June 21, 2024
Staff reports