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Robert Morris Seeks to Boost Access to Mental Health Care

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pittsburgh – The facts are clear and grim: Suicide is the third leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 24. Four of the six leading causes of disability worldwide are due to psychiatric disorders. Mental illness increases the risk of a host of chronic illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

“Mental health care in the United States, particularly for young people, is woefully inadequate,” says Kirstyn M. Kameg, professor of nursing at Robert Morris University in Moon Township. In fact, only 25 percent of children and adolescents who need psychiatric care actually get help, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

To address this looming crisis, RMU is teaming with Heritage Valley Health System to educate nurse practitioners to provide mental health care to patients of all ages, including those suffering from multiple chronic illnesses. RMU has received a three-year, $923,000 grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to support this initiative, formally known as the Access to Interprofessional Mental Health Education (AIME) project.

The grant will allow RMU to expand its existing Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, who have the ability to prescribe medications and provide psychotherapy. Since nurse practitioners work alongside primary care providers, including pediatricians, they can offer mental health services without having to refer patients elsewhere. Nurse practitioners can take into account a patient’s overall health, including the chronic illnesses that both arise from and contribute to mental health disorders.

Grant funds also will be used to purchase distance-learning technology to allow students who live in rural areas an opportunity to return to school, graduate, and meet the mental health care needs of individuals in the under-served areas in which they reside.

“Patients with untreated mental illness often do not seek out preventative health care. They are at increased risk for developing drug and alcohol problems as well as smoking-related pathology. This lack of prevention increases health care costs and further burdens a stressed health care system,” says Kameg, who coordinates the university’s psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program.

The School of Nursing and Health Sciences at RMU is one of only 72 nursing schools nationwide to offer a specialty in child/adolescent or family mental health. The goal of the grant is for RMU to expand enrollment in that program from 23 students at present to 72 by 2016.

Another objective for this project is for Robert Morris to enhance psychiatric mental health educational experiences through simulation scenarios, which will focus on multidisciplinary collaboration in the diagnosis and management of patients with multiple chronic health conditions. These interactive simulation experiences will be accessible to distance students in real time, thus maximizing the opportunity to practice diagnosis and treatment in a safe environment without risk of patient harm.

RMU will develop these simulations in collaboration with medical residents at Heritage Valley Health System through the university’s Regional Research and Innovation in Simulation Education (RISE) Center. The RISE Center includes a standardized patient program, in which specially trained actors participate as patients in medical simulations. One of the goals of the simulations is to prepare future clinicians to collaborate as members of interprofessional teams, which will ultimately improve patient outcomes.  
“Interdisciplinary simulation scenarios improve communication skills within the medical professions and lead to improved patient care and safety through a variety of hands-on learning experiences,” says Dr. Stephen Hagberg, interim program director for Heritage Valley Family Medicine Residency.

Robert Morris University, founded in 1921, is a private, four-year institution with an enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The university offers 60 undergraduate and 20 graduate programs. An estimated 22,000 alumni live and work in western Pennsylvania.