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Portrait of Anna Liuzzo in her school classroom.

Published August 31, 2021

BY MICHELLE KEARNS & CHARLES ANZALONE

Federal grant allows UB to continue work with underserved mental health patients

An ongoing federal grant, now extended for a second time, has been funding stipends and attracting students to GSE’s counseling and psychology programs with a two-pronged approach to training—in opioid addiction care for people from underserved communities and in collaborative work with other behavioral health care professionals.

The 2019, $1.92 million extension of the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training stipend scholarship program from the Health Resources and Services Administration continues the initial grant funding for another four years. So far, the scholarship and stipend, which includes a companion training program, has supported 92 UB graduate students from a range of disciplines.

The training on topics like patient interviewing and addiction treatment also creates a forum for inter-disciplinary exchange between students from different programs like nursing, social work and family medicine.

“Students are learning a lot about the other disciplines they will be working with,” said Tim Janikowski, a co-investigator on the grant project and GSE associate professor in the Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology. “It gives them an intersciplinary outlook.”

This year the stipends—$10,000 for master’s students, $25,000 for PhD students—are supporting 14 GSE students during their internship work. The scholarships allow them to forgo part-time jobs and focus more completely on their studies. After graduation, participants agree to take jobs serving disadvantaged clients in urban and rural areas.

“In an effort to address the shortage of well-trained and highly skilled members of the behavioral health workforce, this program is helping to address the health inequities faced by these areas, as many of our graduates are staying to work in the same underserved areas that they were trained in,” said Yu-Ping Chang, professor and associate dean for research and scholarship in the School of Nursing and principal investigator of the grant training project. “We are truly having a positive impact on the surrounding communities.”

Another co-investigator praised the approach to a complicated health care crisis.

“Complex behavioral health needs require coordinated services from multiple professions, particularly given the racial health disparities that exist in the Western New York region,” said Diane Elze, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Social Work. “Through these grants, our social work students also have wonderful opportunities to learn from and work with students from other professions, and we know that effective communication and teamwork among health and mental health professionals are essential to competent service delivery.”

To further support student training within the department of Counseling, School, and Educational Psychology, Scott Sabella, a GSE associate professor is leading, with Janikowski, another grant scholarship project, which also won approval in 2019: A $1 million, 5-year federal grant from the Rehabilitation Services Adminstration. It funds a new scholarship that pays the tuition for master’s degree students aiming for careers as rehabilitation counselors who provide psychological, social and vocation help to people with disabilities. In return, students commit to work in a state or federally-funded system, or partner.

This is beneficial for the profession, said Janikowski. Both scholarship programs have helped attract good students. “The rehabilitation counseling and mental health counseling master’s degree programs typically have no financial support, other than financial aid, for students completing their programs,” he said.

“We’ve seen an uptick in applications,” said Janikowski. “It’s helping to improve the work force.”

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