NAU professor Julie Baldwin is looking for local mental and behavioral health service providers who are willing to take a deeper dive into the needs of some of Northern Arizona’s underserved communities and find the best methods to help those communities with adolescent drug use and mental health problems.
Baldwin, the director of NAU’s Center for Health Equity Research, hales from the University of South Florida Institute for Translational Research Education in Adolescent Drug Abuse program, where she worked with USF professors Bruce Levin and Tom Massey on a grant-funded certificate program. The program matches scholars with local social service agencies who work together to translate research on substance abuse and physical and behavioral health into service learning projects that can help communities.
Baldwin said the group recently had its grant renewed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Some of the service learning projects scholars from the program have completed over the last five years include a project about providing on-site counseling at a pediatrician’s office in the hopes of catching and providing care for mental health problems early, getting parents engaged in their children’s lives so they can catch problems early and identifying key factors into why some people start using opioids.
“The projects were largely based on what the community agency saw as priority for their clients/patients and what the teams felt they could do, what was feasible within the timeframe, and what could have the greatest impact," Baldwin said. "And it certainly is possible that some of these programs could be replicated in other communities or settings.”
Northern Arizona has a particular problem with access to health care because of the rural nature of the area, widespread poverty and cultural differences, she said.
According to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, 38,517 people in Coconino County were on AHCCCS this month. There are two main hospitals in Coconino County -- Flagstaff Medical Center and Page Hospital -- and a handful of medical clinics for a county that is 18,661 square miles in size and has a population of 140,908. According to the U.S. Census’ Quick Facts website, nearly 20 percent of county residents live in poverty.
Baldwin, who has been working on the program for USF for the last five years, said there are numerous studies out there that show multiple ways to help treat drug abuse or behavior health problems for local behavior and social health specialists and organizations to choose from. But not all of those methods are a good fit for a community, especially underserved communities like Native Americans, Hispanics and rural areas.
There are cultural, economic, social and environmental issues that prevent or make it more difficult to translate what looks like a great treatment idea into a plan that fits these community, she said. The idea is to provide equal access to health care to all communities in the state. Unequal access to health care plays a factor in the spread of communicable diseases, such as Zika, Ebola and tuberculosis.
Organizations that provide physical, behavioral and mental health services also often don’t have the time to weed through the data and adapt new treatment ideas to their communities.
That's where the USF Institute for Translational Research comes in, Baldwin said. As part of an 18-month program graduate students and community professional who are studying or working in the fields of public health, psychology, social work, criminal justice, education, counseling or nursing, first take classes on adolescent behavioral health and how to translate research into real world uses, as well as how to collect, measure and parse data that they collect through surveys, interviews and other means.
The 15-credit certificate course also requires a service learning project where scholars work directly with local organizations to research and create a treatment plan that works for their communities.
Baldwin will start recruiting the next cohort of NAU students for the certificate program in the fall.