School of Social Work receives $2.2 million in federal funding to prepare students for integrated healthcare

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School of Social Work receives $2.2 million in federal funding to prepare students for integrated healthcare


Majority to support new initiative to train more behavioral health professionals, especially social workers, to assess and treat children at risk for substance abuse and mental health disorders


(Chapel Hill, N.C. – Oct. 30, 2014) – The UNC School of Social Work has been awarded $2.2 million in federal grants to train masters in social work students to work in primary care settings as behavioral and mental healthcare specialists and to prepare UNC-Chapel Hill dual-degree graduates for leadership roles in public health social work.


The larger of the two grants, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, was awarded as part of an initiative to increase the number of mental health and public health workers, especially those serving adolescents and young adults.


Nationally, because of the shortage of behavioral health services for youth, young people are among the least likely to receive treatment. This shortage is especially acute in North Carolina, where children, who are 12 and older, have among the nation’s highest rates of illicit drug use and dependence.


UNC-Chapel Hill researchers aim to address this need with the federal funding. About $1.4 million will be used to create UNC-PrimeCare, a program that will rigorously prepare masters in social work students to work with medical professionals in the assessment and treatment of children and young adults who have, or are at risk for, mental health or substance use disorders.


“The mind-body connection in healthcare has been discussed for years, and this money will assist us in preparing and training our students as they enter the health care practice arena,” said School of Social Work Dean Jack M. Richman.


Most of the money will support student stipends–about $10,000 per student–and to hire a recruiter who can help the school quickly enlist primary care clinics and other health-focused agencies willing to serve as field placements for social work interns. The grant will also pay for developing courses, continuing education workshops and seminars.


Changes under the Affordable Care Act have contributed to the incorporation of more behavioral health professionals, especially social workers, into integrated health care settings. Generally, doctors and nurses are seeing more patients with substance abuse and mental health disorders and as a result, need more support and resources to screen and treat these individuals’ needs, said Lisa Zerden, a clinical assistant professor and UNC-PrimeCare program director. Trained social workers are a “natural fit” for these roles and for helping patients manage their overall care, including assisting with referrals and navigating the complex healthcare system, she said.


Perhaps most significant, these same social workers can help to screen and treat youth and young adults between 16 and 25—the critical age range for catching behavioral and mental healthcare problems before they worsen, Zerden said.


UNC leaders are equally excited about the funding boost for the dual master’s degree program in social work and public health. The program was awarded a three-year $866,342 “Leadership in Public Health Social Work Education” grant from the Bureau of Health Workforce. A significant portion of the funding will support students, especially in the summer during their second year field placements, explained Professor Kathleen Rounds, co-director of the MSW/MPH program. Each student will receive a $10,000 stipend for living expenses and tuition, as well as about $3,000 for graduate student health insurance.


“It’s more funding than we’ve had in the past for students, and it’s critically important because the summer field placement is full-time, and students pay summer school tuition, and they have no way to support themselves during that time,” she said. “This funding makes a huge difference for them.”


School of Social Work contact: Michelle Rogers, (919) 962-1532,

Communications and Public Affairs contact: Thania Benios, (919) 962-8596,