The endowment will help address the growing behavioral health crisis in Arkansas by increasing the number of behavioral health professionals serving the state’s communities and training these specialists to practice in primary care settings.
“The Blue & You Foundation endowment supports the UA Little Rock School of Social Work in their development of a program component that will train our graduates to specialize in this critical area of health care while providing financial support during their education,” said Dr. Stephen Kapp, director of the Master of Social Work Program at UA Little Rock. “In the end, this program builds the capacity to improve both mental and physical health outcomes in Arkansas.”
The funding is part of $5.29 million in grants for behavioral health programs in Arkansas that the Blue & You Foundation announced July 16. The grants focus on eight Arkansas programs led by six established organizations that will address the growing behavioral health crisis in the state. The Blue & You Foundation is a charitable foundation established and funded by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield to promote better health in Arkansas.
“We believe that addressing the behavioral healthcare needs of our state requires collaboration with local organizations that have demonstrated success in increasing access, improving outcomes and reducing stigma,” said Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “We recognize the impact behavioral health can have on the health of individuals, families, and communities as a whole. With these investments, we can help create healthier communities and give hope to those in need, while normalizing the conversation around behavioral health.”
The Blue & You Integrated Behavioral Health in Primary Care Practice Endowment will provide stipends to students in the Master of Social Work Program who are working under the supervision of licensed social workers in primary care physician offices in the state. In turn, these funds will support the education of future social workers while they develop skill sets that would enhance the capacity of primary care physicians to provide meaningful physical and mental health treatment to Arkansans.
“We are so grateful to the Blue & You Foundation for supporting our communities by addressing behavioral health head on with this meaningful endowment,” said Michael Johnson, director of development and external relations for the College of Business, Health, and Human Services.
UA Little Rock is one of three universities in Arkansas, along with Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, to receive grants of $500,000 from the Blue & You Foundation to create endowments to directly support students in Master of Social Work Programs. The additional $105,000 will support start-up and administrative costs for UA Little Rock’s Master of Social Work Program.
“From the onset of our research and discovery process, we knew that we’d be more successful in achieving our goal to improve behavioral healthcare in Arkansas by finding established and proven programs within the Natural State,” said Rebecca Pittillo, executive director of the Blue & You Foundation. “As we engaged with organizations across the state, I was amazed at the innovative approaches to challenging issues and the tremendous results already achieved. The programs led by the grant recipients announced today will go a long way in helping provide immediate and long-term support for Arkansans in need.”
In Arkansas, the issue of behavioral health conditions is particularly serious. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that incidents of suicide, along with symptoms of anxiety and depression, are prevalent in Arkansas at rates higher than the national average. There is also an unmet need for behavioral healthcare in the state with 65.7 percent of adolescents reported having not received treatment for a major depressive episode, also significantly higher than the national average.
“Mental health issues are a growing concern in the U.S.,” Kapp said. “People generally do not seek treatment at a mental health clinic or a therapist, this concern shows up in routine exams with their primary care physicians. Integrated Behavioral Health programs allow social workers in medical practices to treat this condition which not only leads to better mental health but it also minimizes the interference of poor mental health on overall physical health outcomes.”
In the upper right photo, representatives from the Blue & You Foundation and UA Little Rock celebrate the announcement of a new endowment for social work students at UA Little Rock. From left, Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Christian O’Neal, vice chancellor for university advancement, Dr. Ann Bain, UA Little Rock executive vice chancellor and provost, Rebecca Pittillo, executive director of Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas, Chancellor Christina Drale, Stephen Kapp, director of UA Little Rock Master of Social Work Program, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Michael Johnson, director of development and external relations, and Dr. Shannon Collier-Tenison, UA Little Rock interim dean of the College of Business, Health, and Human Services. Photo by Ben Krain.