Sacred Heart University School of Social Work Receives $1.78 Million Grant

Funding will help increase the number of social workers in areas short on health professionals

Sacred Heart University’s School of Social Work recently received a $1.78 million, four-year grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to increase the number of licensed master social workers in Connecticut. These professionals provide interdisciplinary team-based, culturally inclusive, behavioral health care for areas with medically underserved and vulnerable populations of all ages in primary health-care settings.

The Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program for Professionals grant will support the project, Making IMPACTS: Integrating Mental Health into Primary Care—Training for Social Work, organized by SHU’s School of Social Work in collaboration with SHU’s master of public health and physician assistant programs in the College of Health Professions.

Making IMPACTS also aims to increase the number of training opportunities for students seeking their master of social work (MSW) by at least 25% in rural areas and other places where there is a shortage of behavioral health professionals. It will focus on the development of trainees’ competencies in trauma-informed, culturally and linguistically sensitive, team-based, inter-professional care and digital literacy. Accomplishing this will involve curricular changes, course revisions, inter-professional education events and field supervisor training.

This project will produce a more representative behavioral health workforce in Connecticut by increasing the diversity of SHU’s MSW pathway and encouraging diverse MSW students to train in areas that are short of health professionals. Increasing the pathway of students from under-represented backgrounds into the social work field will expand access to behavioral health care and improve health outcomes for populations in high-need areas.

Sacred Heart will provide $10,000 BHWET stipends to 29 MSW students in their specialized year internship each year. These students will gain experience working in inter-professional teams through close collaboration with SHU’s master of public health and physician assistant programs, and also through training placements in primary care and other settings, such as federally qualified health centers. SHU’s office of volunteer programs and service learning will assist in building additional relationships for placements.

“The HRSA BHWET grant is vitally important for our students and community to address health-care inequities in vulnerable and underserved populations,” said Bronwyn Cross-Denny, associate professor of health science. “Our students will be working collaboratively across disciplines in the community to build the behavioral health workforce in primary health-care settings. The grant could not have come at a better time, as health inequities have come to the forefront of our attention due to the pandemic of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement to combat racism. It’s time to address this social-justice issue.”

The team involved with this project includes Cross-Denny; Victoria Osborne, assistant professor of social work; Maura Rhodes, clinical assistant professor of social work; Jill Manit, MSW program director and clinical assistant professor of social work; and Elizabeth Johnson-Tyson, director of student support and success and clinical assistant professor of social work.

“My team and I are excited to begin the Making IMPACTS project, aimed at increasing the diversity of the behavioral health workforce in Fairfield County, specifically the Bridgeport area,” said Osborne. “Expanding health care to areas with shortages of health professionals is vital.”

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