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State, IU partnering on rural mental health services – Inside INdiana Business

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The Salem Public Library is one of four libraries participating in the program. (photo courtesy of the IU Center for Rural Engagement)

Indiana University is teaming up with the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to provide mental health services in four rural Indiana communities. The program is offering telehealth services from students at the IU School of Social Work at libraries in Bedford, Petersburg, Salem and Sullivan. Kerry Thomson, executive director of the IU Center for Rural Engagement, says the program was born out of rural communities expressing a need for greater access to mental health services.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Thomson said using libraries is a key component of the program.

“Libraries have become a place really where people don’t just go to check out books. They are community resource centers,” said Thomson. “As we are talking to libraries about other things they can do to meet needs in communities, this idea came up to provide telehealth services of some variety, and what seemed to work best was tele-mental health. We’re really thrilled that the possibility is there to really reach Hoosiers no matter where they live; a library is a natural place to do that.”

Thomson says rural communities across Indiana frequently have a ratio of one mental health provider for every 1,200 residents.

The program involves two sets of students from the School of Social Work on IU’s Bloomington campus. Thomsen says first-year students can do case management, which can involve providing connections to resources that a person might need such as food, clothing, housing and healthcare.

Second-year, graduate-level students will be able to provide direct clinical mental health support for individuals under the supervision of a field instructor who is a licensed social worker and a field liaison.

“That’s like a therapy appointment, and that’s what people mostly think of when they think of mental health,” said Thomson. “The social work students can help really look at the whole person and what services might be necessary to support their mental health.”

IU says students will complete up to 640 clinical hours during the academic year. Thomson says the program will not only benefit those seeking mental health services, but the workforce as well.

“As we look at how we attract a mental health workforce of professionals, part of what we need to look at is ease of care, and driving a great distance between appointments is frequently a detractor for a provider,” she said. “But, when you can sit in one place and access patients no matter where they are, that is a tremendous health.”

Thomson says the school knows from working with students in the past that exposing them to work and quality of life and culture in rural spaces also helps attract them to want to live there later.

The state is providing $200,000 for the program, a spokesperson for the OCRA told our partners at WEHT-TV.

“It can be difficult to find accessible mental health resources, especially in rural communities,” OCRA Executive Director Denny Spinner said in written remarks. “Offering a free telehealth service is a convenient and attainable resource I hope many rural Hoosiers in these counties will benefit from.”

Adults 18 and older can make appointments now for a telehealth consultation. Individuals do not need to be a resident of the participating communities to make an appointment.

The locations and hours include:

  • Bedford Public Library: 1323 K. St. in Bedford. Appointments are available from 5 to 7 pm Mondays and 10 am to noon Wednesdays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-275-4471 or email nwatson@bedlib.com.
  • Pike County Library, Petersburg Branch: 1008 Maple St. in Petersburg. Appointments are available 3 to 5 pm Mondays and 10 am to noon Fridays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-354-6257 or email p.clerks@pikeco.lib.in.us.
  • Salem Public Library: 212 N. Main St. in Salem. Appointments are available 10 am to noon Mondays and 3 to 5 pm Wednesdays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-883-5600 or email salemindianalibrary@hotmail.com.
  • Sullivan County Library: 100 S. Crowder St. in Sullivan. Appointments are available 4 to 6 pm Mondays and 10 am to noon Thursdays. To schedule an appointment, call 812-268-4957 or email jorwig@sullivan.lib.in.us

Thomson says if the pilot of the program is successful, the university hopes to secure additional funding to expand to other communities, particularly near IU’s other regional campuses throughout the state.

You can learn more about the program from the Center for Rural Engagement by clicking here.

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