The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded a $600,000 grant to the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership (ARHP) for the creation of the ARHP-Outreach Program (ARHP-OP).

The three-year project will expand health care service delivery by increasing prevention, education, and access to mental and behavioral health services in rural communities across the southeast Arkansas Delta.

Although mental and behavioral health have long been a major concern across the nation, rural communities are particularly vulnerable due to extremely limited access to mental health professionals and treatment. The program expects to reduce morbidity and mortality due to mental or behavioral health conditions in adults (age 18-64) by 15 percent in rural southeast Arkansas Delta by April 2021.To meet this goal, mental health assessments will be provided via telehealth to all ARHP hospitals’ Emergency Departments (EDs).

ARHP members include Ashley County Medical Center in Crossett, Baptist Health Medical Center in Stuttgart, Bradley County Medical Center in Warren, Chicot Memorial Medical Center in Lake Village, Dallas County Medical Center in Fordyce, Delta Memorial Hospital in Dumas, DeWitt Hospital & Nursing Home, Drew Memorial Health System in Monticello, Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff, and McGehee Hospital.

The ARHP-OP will make available 24-hour access to telemedicine counseling provided by a mental health professional to all partnering EDs. Services will include patient assessments and referrals to treatment, and also increase the ability of rural emergency departments and hospitals to provide relevant and timely mental health assistance within the local community and throughout ARHP’s 19-county service area.

“This type of project allows ARHP and its member hospitals to continue to build access to care so that we can provide quality care locally,” Bridewell said. “This most recent funding award is giving the ARHP hospitals an opportunity to increase access to mental health services right here in our own communities.”

The ARHP-Outreach Program will also provide front line responders with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. MHFA is an early intervention program with demonstrated success in improving behavioral health in rural communities. By addressing the immediate need to equip these front line workers—EMS/EMTs, Emergency Departments, hospital and clinic staff and law enforcement—in how to recognize the signs and symptoms of an individual in a mental health crisis, they will be better prepared to provide early intervention and assist individuals in need of treatment. “By providing the appropriate training to healthcare workers and front line responders as well as mental health resources to help our hospitals with quick response for these patients in our emergency departments, our local hospitals can build more resources to provide quality care,” Bridewell added.

Lastly, ARHP-OP will conduct public awareness campaigns to promote early detection of mental illness symptoms and how to access services with community presentations through established organizations.

For additional information on the ARHP-Outreach Program, contact Mellie Bridewell at (870) 265-6553.