Wanted: Behavioral Health Care Managers in RI

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A four-year $2.3 million grant the federal government awarded to RIC's Institute for Education in Healthcare is designed to develop a pipeline of behavioral health care managers statewide.

As the pandemic intensified over the past 18 months so has the need to streamline behavioral and primary health care.

To address the need, Rhode Island College’s Institute for Education in Healthcare (IEH) has been awarded a $2.3 million federal grant to transform how behavioral health care is delivered, establishing an apprenticeship program that trains behavioral health care managers.

“Through this grant we are partnering with health centers and mental health centers that have been overwhelmed by patients with behavioral health needs, especially during COVID-19,” says Marianne Raimondo, IEH executive director and principal investigator for the four-year grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

The grant is specifically designed to develop behavioral health care managers to aid vulnerable families dealing with complex physical/behavioral health needs and social determinants of health issues.

“When I told Gateway Health, one of our partners, that we had secured the grant, their response was, ‘Thank God, this is badly needed,’’’ says Raimondo, who had been researching and writing the grant since April.

Behavioral health case manager candidates will work as a part of an interdisciplinary team that assesses patients, works to develop treatment plans, finds resources for patients’ needs and sets up referrals. All those duties have been weighing heavily on primary care providers and mental health centers and have at times fallen through the cracks, especially during the pandemic.

“This creates a new position that works with doctors, nurses and social workers and is able to provide the additional support to complete tasks clinicians don’t have time to do,” Raimondo explains. “A behavioral health care manager can coordinate all the resources a family needs to stay healthy, holistically intervening and supporting the family.”

The grant also helps fulfill one of Rhode Island College’s biggest missions: experiential learning. The 100 students accepted to enter the apprentice program will earn a $10,000 stipend while they undergo 60 hours of certificate training at Gateway, Thundermist and Wood River health centers, all of whom are IEH healthcare partners for this program. Bradley Hospital will serve as an educational partner.

Raimondo said the program will seek out RIC seniors who are studying in the fields of social work, community health and wellness and healthcare administration.

“The qualities that a potential behavioral health care manager should possess includes a rapport with clients and working with a caregiving team, meeting clients where they are with empathy and having an ability to put themselves in the clients’ shoes,” Raimondo says, adding that candidates should have assessment skills and a capacity to work on electronic health records.

IEH will develop competencies for primary and mental health centers to gauge the progress of their behavioral health manager apprentices. An onsite coach or mentor will help apprentices who may have challenges grasping the work.

“We have other grants where we’ve partnered with the Department of Labor and Training and RIC Foundation to help a vulnerable population but this is our first opportunity to build on blocks of our work and take them to the next level,” Raimondo says of IEH, which was established five years ago.