HRSA Awards $700,000 to Educate Psychiatric Mental Health Nurses

Project Director and Associate Professor Victoria Soltis-Jarrett, PhD, PMHCNS/NP-BC was just awarded a $700,000 continuation grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for the project: Psych NPs (Nurse Practitioners)–Meeting the Needs of the Underserved in North Carolina (aka PsychNP-NC). The additional funding will help enhance the curriculum, expand the geographical impact and increase access of mental health care services for citizens who live in an additional 37 rural and remote North Carolina (NC) counties.

Overall, NC has a shortage of health care providers. Roughly one-third of the state’s counties, the majority being rural and remote, do not have any psychiatrists. Of those counties lacking mental health care: 33% are without general (adult) psychiatrists and 75% do not have any child psychiatrists. PsychNP-NC prepares Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) to provide essential advanced practice nursing care for the citizens of NC who are suffering from mental health problems and those with severe and persistent psychiatric illnesses.

These highly-trained specialty nurses often come from minority/disadvantaged backgrounds, reside in areas of the state that are designated medically underserved/health professional shortage areas, and return to their communities to address these shortages after their education is complete.

This new grant gives the project director the ability to better meet the changing needs of the rural and remote NC residents by including new program contaent to focus on lifespan issues, including child/adolescence and aging adults. It will enable the program to expand from the current 31 counties to reach a total of 68 counties, and increase patient access by linking with the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) and the Department of Health and Human Services to assist with clinical site development and clinical placements after students graduate.

This builds upon the commitment already made by the NC Legislature to provide $125,000 per year in recurring scholarship funds for students who are willing to commit to work in mental health agencies across the state upon graduation. The role of the PMHNP is a relatively new one for North Carolina, and the DHHS is taking a lead to help integrate this important primary care practitioner into the mental health system.

Soltis-Jarrett says that this project supports the current National Mental Health Agenda set forth by the goals of Healthy People 2010, the overarching goals of Healthy People 2020, and the Bureau of Health Professions Goals 1-4, which is to eliminate barriers to care; eliminate health disparities, assure quality of care and improve public health and health care systems.

Upon completion of this nurse practitioner program, students will sit for the ANCC Certification examination and be eligible for employment serving the needs of rural and underserved NC populations.