Grants Allow VCU Psychology Program to Expand Primary Care Mental Health Services to the Uninsured and Underserved

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Psychology has received two grants to expand mental health services to the uninsured and underserved.

A one-year, $54,000 Health Safety Net grant from the Virginia Health Care Foundation supports a doctoral program project that provides mental health care to uninsured and underserved people in the Richmond metropolitan area. An additional two years of funding through the grant is possible, raising the total grant amount to $120,000. Matching funds from VCU’s Virginia Coordinated Care for the Uninsured program are supporting the effort.

A second $390,000 grant was obtained from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to expand the training aspects of the project. This grant provides stipends for three doctoral students per year, offers training opportunities for as many as 45 doctoral students over three years, adds faculty members from the departments of psychiatry, pediatrics and pharmacy to assist in the training and expands the settings to include pediatric and adolescent primary care training. The HRSA grant provides $130,000 each year over the next three years.

“The Health Resources and Services Administration focuses on both primary care and underserved populations,” said Bruce D. Rybarczyk, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology. “It is their hope that students trained through this program will ultimately take jobs in primary care and other settings that meet the needs of underserved populations.”

The doctoral program pilot project, launched in January 2009, places psychology doctoral student clinicians in the VCU Health System Ambulatory Care Center primary care clinic for uninsured and underserved people.

The pilot allows doctoral students to provide brief psychological intervention, consultation and assessment services in a primary care setting and the clinic benefits by having onsite mental health services.

“Most importantly, the patients benefit by having access to needed mental health services in a ‘one stop’ stigma-free environment,” Rybarczyk said.

The doctoral students in clinical and counseling psychology, under supervision from faculty members, have already provided more than 1,200 individual sessions to patients with limited access to mental health services in their communities.

The team provides brief behavioral interventions for a range of problems including depression, anxiety, stress and loss, coping with chronic pain and illness, insomnia, smoking cessation, non-adherence to medical treatments, lack of exercise and obesity.

Rybarczyk said that by providing services in a brief format and referring patients who need more intensive services to specialty mental health clinics, the program is able to cost effectively address the needs of a wide range of patients.

"This program has been very successful in increasing our capacity to treat mind and body together for better health, often on the same day that the patient’s need is identified," said Denise Borden, M.D., medical director of the Internal Medicine Primary Care Resident Clinic.

“It’s a huge step forward in helping us to become the best academic ambulatory care experience in the country.”

This initiative to integrate behavioral and medical health care services in a single primary care setting is consistent with the goals of national health care reform.

“Both of these grants support a unique training opportunity that allows us to place medical and pharmacy residents, psychology trainees and their faculty preceptors in the same room to consider the needs of a single patient from multiple perspectives,” Rybarczyk said. “It is a cutting edge approach to medicine that provides a fertile environment for both learning and optimal patient care.”

The Virginia Health Care Foundation (VHCF) is a nonprofit public/private partnership whose mission is to increase access to primary health care for uninsured and medically underserved Virginians by strengthening and growing Virginia’s health care safety net. 

The Foundation was initiated by the General Assembly and its Joint Commission on Health Care in 1992. 

The Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.