UK gets $1.3 million grant to help train more substance-abuse and behavioral-health workers for work in Appalachia

The College of Social Work at the University of Kentucky has received a three-year, $1.3 million federal grant to help get more substance-abuse and behavioral-health workers in Appalachia.

“More than two-thirds of Kentucky’s counties are officially designated health professional shortage areas. Access to mental health professionals — including those trained in [substance use disorder] prevention, intervention and recovery — is extremely limited,” Kalea Benner, the college’s associate dean for academic and student affairs and principal investigator of the project, said in a news release. “The grant provides support for specialized training, skills development and professional support for students who will eventually help address these shortages.”

According to data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 30 percent of Kentucky’s mental- health needs are being met.

The project, titled “Building Substance Use Disorder Workforce Capacity in the Appalachia Region,” is a collaborative effort with UK’s College of Education.

The release says the goal of the program is “to provide the necessary training to address the behavioral health needs in those underserved communities.” It says they plan to do this by integrating students from social work and counseling psychology into care settings so that they can receive specialized training and experience with substance use and opioid use disorder treatments. The program will also have a telehealth component.

“My more specific role is to develop a telehealth service delivery platform in collaboration with treatment centers that serve rural populations,” Jeff Reese, professor in the Department of Counseling, School & Educational Psychology, said in the release. “This will include students receiving instruction and gaining experience using telehealth technologies for service delivery.”

“There is great need for more mental and social service professionals to help deal with the consequences of this crisis.” Jay Miller, dean of the College of Social Work, said in the release. “This grant will allow the College of Social Work to continue to prepare practitioners to deal specifically with individuals, families and broader systems impacted by this crisis.”

The grant comes from the federal government’s Opioid Workforce Expansion Program. It is part of a $1 billion appropriation aimed at combating the nation’s opioid epidemic.

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