Integrated Behavioral Health Care Social Work Project

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ECU social work graduate students Scott Miller of Verona and Madeline Todd of Jacksonville, pictured above, are participating in a new collaborative care internship program that aims to enhance their skills in both physical and behavioral health care. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)


ECU debuts new model of coordinated care for mental, physical health

Sept. 20, 2013

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

Patients in need of mental and physical health care will have an easier time getting both through a new partnership between East Carolina University social work and family medicine.

At the Brody School of Medicine’s Family Medicine Center, two graduate students from the ECU School of Social Work are seeing patients alongside ECU physicians through a new model of coordinated care for physical and behavioral health in a primary care setting.

The collaborative internship program at ECU was one of 28 in the nation selected for the Integrated Behavioral Health Care Social Work Project to address disparities and inefficiencies in the health care system.

“Mental health has sort of been in a silo apart from physical health. Now we’re working in tandem,” said Janna Daugherty, social work practitioner at the Family Medicine Center. “It decreases the stigma and makes it easier for people to access behavioral health services.”
ECU graduate student Scott Miller speaks with a patient as part of his collaborative internship at the Family Medicine Center.

Graduate social work students Madeline Todd of Jacksonville and Scott Miller of Verona began their internships this fall. They will work 24 hours each week at the Family Medicine Center and will complete additional course work until they graduate next spring.

Under the supervision of experienced providers like Daugherty, the students will learn to conduct comprehensive client assessments to address mental health, substance use, trauma and issues relating to chronic illness and will help patients plan appropriate goals and get needed services. Todd and Miller will co-lead a health promotion group such as smoking cessation and will work with a care manager on urgent medical needs. 

“We are excited to have these students here,” said Nancy Pierson, director of field education in the School of Social Work. “We know emotional well-being is tied to physical well-being.”

Officials hope the new model of care will reach people who otherwise might not seek help because of access, cost or cultural stigmas.

“We see a strong link between diabetes and depression, between high blood pressure and depression, and just adjusting to a diagnosis of these disorders can be a challenge,” Daugherty said.

Family medicine cares for children to adults, and social workers assist patients dealing with a wide range of health issues from expectant mothers who are depressed, to older adults adjusting to the death of a longtime partner, to mood disorders.    

As a result, the students will learn advanced practice skills in engagement, assessment, intervention planning and treatment for clients with physical and mental health conditions throughout the life cycle.  

Having a social worker as part of the medical team is a real benefit. “Everybody goes through times of highs and lows,” Miller said.

ECU will contribute to course development by participating in webinars and evaluation activities as part of a national learning network as one of 28 schools selected for the project.

The project is supported by the Council on Social Work Education, the National Association of Deans and Director of Schools of Social Work and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/Health Resources and Service Administration Center for Integrated Health Solutions.  

“We want to continue to build on the program and offer it in the future,” Pierson said.

After graduation, Todd said she would like to work in a military setting. Miller said his dream job would be to work in an adventure or wilderness setting with at-risk adolescents. Todd graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work from ECU in 2012. Miller graduated with a bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012.

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