Rural areas in the United States face a shortage of behavioral health practitioners. As CNN recently reported, a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that 47 percent of non-metropolitan counties don’t have access to a psychologist. The shortage extends to psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and a cadre of behavioral health resources including shelters, hospitals and community support groups.
The Institute for Sustainable Health & Optimal Aging at the University of Louisville is working to meet this need in rural Kentucky. This fall, the institute will place 38 students specializing in behavioral health into a dozen rural health care sites across 10 rural and underserved communities.
“Older adults are particularly affected by the lack of behavioral health practitioners,” said Anna Faul, PhD, the institute’s executive director. “Isolation and depression are common issues for older adults, with 20 percent of rural older adults diagnosed with depression. Not having access to behavioral health care can severely worsen conditions and lead to physical decline. Furthermore, mobility limitations can make it difficult for older adults to drive long distances to get the care they need.”
Locations where the students will be placed include:
- Kentucky River Medical Practice (Henry County)
- Kentucky One Health Primary Care Associates (Shelby County)
- T. J. Samson Family Medicine Center (covering Barren, Hart, and Metcalfe Counties)
- Exceptional Senior Living (Oldham County)
- Multi-purpose Community Action Agency (Bullitt and Shelby Counties)
- Tri-County Community Action Agency (Oldham and Trimble Counties)
Several practices, while in Jefferson County, serve older adults in rural areas:
- Family Community Clinic (Jefferson County)
- University of Louisville AIM Clinic (Jefferson County)
- University of Louisville Family & Geriatric Practice (Jefferson County)
- University of Louisville PNES Clinic (Jefferson County)
- Park DuValle Community Health Center (Jefferson County)
- Presbyterian Homes and Services of Kentucky (Jefferson County)
A primary goal of this program is to increase the geriatrics behavioral health workforce in rural communities. Both undergraduate and graduate students across multiple disciplines are involved. Many of the masters and doctoral-level students are participating in the institute’s Flourish Behavioral Health Graduate Internship. The internship, funded by a four-year federal grant, is part of the institute’s Flourish Network, a program focused on team-based care coordination for older adults.