by Mary Stroka
Minnesota State University Mankato announced Thursday it will establish a rural behavioral center this fall to increase access to behavioral health care for residents in outstate Minnesota, including residents of reservations.
The Minnesota Department of Health’s 2021 Rural Health Care in Minnesota Chartbook indicated 80% of the North Star State’s counties are mental health professional shortage areas.
“By establishing the Center for Rural Behavioral Health, the University will be helping to address the shortage of mental health care in outstate Minnesota,” Minnesota State Mankato President Edward Inch said in the news release.
It would seek state and federal funding to grow that workforce and it would seek to make the workforce culturally representative, the university’s College of Allied Health and Nursing’s description of the center said.
Thad Shunkwiler, a Minnesota State University Mankato health science professor, is the center’s founding director. He said data shows access to behavioral health care in rural Minnesota continues to decline.
“The goal of the center is to start addressing this issue with real-world solutions,” he said. “While the conversations around mental health are important and needed, what’s often left out of these stories is who will provide the mental health care in rural areas. Residents in rural communities with shortages of mental health professionals may have to travel great distance to receive care and wait extended periods for care. In some counties, residents are lucky to have anyone provide care at all.”
The Center will promote collaboration among university faculty and community partners, which are (as of March 4) yet to be announced, to conduct behavioral health care research. Research that improves quality and access to care in outstate Minnesota would be emphasized.
The university’s faculty and students in social work, alcohol and drug studies, nursing, counseling and student personnel and school psychology programs would collaborate on research, clinical work and curriculum through the center, which could also partner with industry stakeholders and government officials in its work.
The center would seek to retain providers in rural areas through providing training required for licensure. The center would host an annual lectureship at the university and invite nationally known speakers on rural health care and possibly hold a statewide conference on rural behavioral health care or combine it with other university events.
To learn more about the center, contact Shunkwiler at [email protected] or 507-389-1397.
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