Tyler medical center awarded $750,000 grant to increase mental health access in rural areas

UT Health Science Center Grant

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Thursday it was awarding approximately $20 million in grants to 27 organizations across the country to help increase the rural workforce, including one medical center in Tyler.

The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC) at Tyler will receive $750,000 over a three-year period to develop new rural residency programs while achieving accrediation through Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, according to the HHS.

“The health challenges in rural America are clear: rural communities face a greater risk of poor health outcomes than their urban counterparts,” said HRSA Administrator George Sigounas, MS, Ph.D. “Programs like the Rural Residency Planning and Development grants take aim at one of the most persistent disparities: access to high quality healthcare providers. HRSA is committed to increasing the number of providers serving rural communities and improving health in rural America.”

Doctor Kirk A. Calhoun, president of UT Health Science Center, said much of the grant would be used to expand the center’s mental health programs in rural communities. He said soon, UTHSC will train its own psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals to make sure the region’s mental needs are met.

“It wasn’t too long ago that the university wasn’t very much involved in mental health,” Calhoun explained. “But, I think the mental health challenges in Texas became very evident, and legislature has been supportive, others have been very supportive through philanthropy, and the university has now gone into mental health in a very significant way.”

Calhoun said providing care, particularly to rural areas of East Texas, was among the most important aspects of applying for the grant. He pointed to a recent study that showed northeast Texas has one of the highest suicide rates in the state, significant substances, and child mental health needs.

“We’re lacking in mental health providers in northeast Texas,” Calhoun pointed out. “Most of our counties do not have access to our mental health services; we want to change that.”

The first step will be to hire and train mental health professionals to fit the need, which Calhoun said will happen closer to 2020. Many professional programs take 4 years to earn certification through the appropriate accredited bodies, so it puts the timeline for the program’s beginning closer to 2022.

“As we train those physicians, they’ll be followed by a new freshman class, and a new class after that,” said Calhoun. “And they’ll go through that 4-year curriculum, graduate, and they’ll be ready to go and hang their shingles as psychiatrists in some of our communities.”

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