The program will work to build the next generation of mental health clinicians needed to serve the District’s most vulnerable populations
To assuage the shortage of mental health clinicians desperately needed in under-resourced communities, The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation has committed $2.3 million dollars over 2 years to Unity Health Care to establish The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation Behavioral Health Development Fund. This transformational gift allows Unity to recruit and train the next generation of mental health providers, with a focus on models of care that improve outcomes and drive health equity, with the goal of meeting this critical workforce need. The program will be modeled after Unity’s hallmark family medicine and nurse practitioner residency programs.
“Like so many health care organizations, we continue to see the impacts of the pandemic highlighting disparities, including heightened mental health challenges. At Unity we are proud to be a teaching health center and are deeply committed to training the next generation of providers interested in working in community health centers and with under-resourced populations.” said Unity Health Care President and CEO Dr. Jessica Henderson Boyd. “I am grateful we can now bring innovation and resources to the mental health space. This program will change lives.”
The Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) designation is used by the federal government to identify areas and population groups within the United States that are experiencing a shortage of health professionals. Federal regulations stipulate that, to be considered as having a shortage of providers for mental health, the population to provider ratio must be at least 30,000 to 1. As of September 2021, only 5.3% of the need was met in the District of Columbia. This problem is exacerbated even further in under-resourced communities like Wards 7 and 8 in the District. Despite severe shortages, Unity has worked to meet patient needs in several ways including by educating primary care providers on screening for depression and anxiety and initiating medical treatment and supporting other inter-professional collaborations to support patients at the point of care through mental health first aid training. While these efforts have provided critical support, they do not replace the value of having trained, culturally competent staff available to help patients improve their mental wellness and provide coping strategies that will help improve their overall health.
“We are thrilled to partner with Unity Health Care to establish The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation Behavioral Health Development Fund,” said Mieka Wick, executive director at The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. “We know Unity Health Care is as committed as we are to health equity and building and sustaining effective solutions to meet the needs of the DC community. Efforts to grow the pipeline of mental health practitioners are key steps in building a thriving DC.”
The program is scheduled to launch in fall of 2023.