Proposed initiative to give universities multi-million dollar grants for mental health

By JOSHUA PHILLIPS
Northeast News
January 13, 2014

A new budget proposal by Gov. Jay Nixon will prepare Missouri students in higher education for careers in mental health care fields.

Nixon announced his newest initiative to his budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 during a Dec. 18 press conference at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). This initiative, “Caring for Missourians: Mental Health,” will provide $20 million in grants to Missouri’s public colleges and universities to educate students for careers in mental health fields.

This initiative proposal includes two Kansas City, Mo., institutions of higher education: UMKC and Metropolitan Community College (MCC). UMKC would receive $4.1 million in grants and MCC would receive $439,892 from the initiative. The grants would also help UMKC to hire new faculty, expand their current programs related to mental health and purchase equipment needed for mental health training.

“This initiative is a great work-around approach as far as increasing the workforce with future graduates coming here to UMKC,” said Ann Carry, UMKC dean of the School of Nursing and Health Studies. “Once these (future) students graduate, they stay in the area. The Department of Mental Health will entice people into this field, and we will also have new faculty being hired on for our mental health-related programs.”

Carry said UMKC would also enhance their programs related to mental health, such as expanding clinical opportunities and providing simulations in which students would practice on persons simulating mental health issues. These simulations would range from substance abuse to developmental disabilities, among others.

As a part of the agreement with Nixon’s administration, the 21 Missouri public colleges and universities would see an increase in students for mental health-related professions. Although the total increase in students for the schools receiving grant money is 1,200, UMKC would receive at least 60 new students, Carry said.

This initiative proposed by the governor is not the first of its kind. In May of 2009, Nixon announced his plan “Caring for Missourians” to educate and train more than 900 professionals, but this new initiative will focus solely on training professionals in mental healthcare fields. UMKC would not receive the largest portion of the grants; the University of Missouri-Columbia would receive the most, totaling $6.4 million.

Not only will this proposal support mental healthcare programs in higher education, but it will ultimately “help to address a critical shortage of mental health professionals to provide treatment and support to Missourians with developmental disabilities, mental illness or substance abuse disorders,” Nixon said in a press release.

Nixon’s budget initiative would also be a method to promote job growth throughout the state in mental health professions. Seventy-two of 114 Missouri counties lack a licensed psychiatrist, and 90 of the 114 counties do not have a resident licensed analyst to provide treatment for autism spectrum disorders, according to the press release.

“These grants would allow UMKC to offer a master’s degree with an emphasis in mental health care to help address the need for diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders,” UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton said in a press release. “This latest proposal would help more of our graduates pursue these life-saving careers while strengthening Missouri’s mental health care system.”

This initiative would not only address the lack of sufficient mental healthcare programs and professionals in mental healthcare fields, but also provide help to those who need it most, Nixon said.

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