Originally published at unitedhealthgroup.com.
The United Health Foundation, the philanthropic foundation of UnitedHealth Group, announced a three-year, $3.2 million grant partnership with East Carolina University (ECU). The grant will expand the North Carolina Statewide Telepsychiatry Program (NC-STeP), in the ECU Center for Telepsychiatry, in six community-based pediatric and primary care clinics in rural and underserved parts of the state to support the mental health and well-being of young people in North Carolina.
“Just like we take care of our physical health, it’s important that we take care of our mental health as well,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. “This partnership will help reach even more young people in our rural and historically underserved communities.”
“We are extremely grateful for the United Health Foundation’s continued support of East Carolina University’s NC-STeP program,” said ECU Chancellor Dr. Philip Rogers. “The investment will increase the university’s outreach to the region and provide mental health services to underserved populations in North Carolina. ECU students across multiple disciplines will engage with this project, leading to increased learning opportunities preparing them to address the critical shortage of mental health professionals.”
Youth mental health challenges are on the rise across the country, according to the America’s Health Rankings 2022 Health of Women and Children Report. The report revealed anxiety among children and adolescents increased 23% and depression increased 27% between 2017-2018 and 2020-2021. In North Carolina, children experience significant challenges accessing the care needed to address their mental health. More than 70% of children with a mental health disorder do not receive treatment and 92% of North Carolina counties are designated as mental health professional shortage areas. This partnership will help connect youth with mental health care services — particularly in areas with provider shortages.
Over three years, it aims to:
- Embed behavioral health providers at six community-based pediatric care clinics and connect them — as well as the primary care providers — to a psychiatrist for case consultation and care planning via telepsychiatry.
- Develop an artificial intelligence-driven portal to enhance collaboration between healthcare providers and encourage family members’ engagement in their child’s mental health care.
- Educate children and families about mental health and well-being through the development of a new virtual reality video game that provides anonymous peer-to-peer support.
- Offer training opportunities for ECU psychiatry residents, child psychiatry fellows, social work students, medical students and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners at the six community clinics.
- Hold an Interdisciplinary Telehealth Summit to share lessons learned from the project.
“We’re honored and excited to partner with East Carolina University to address key health challenges our young people are facing,” said Anita Bachmann, Chief Executive Officer, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of North Carolina, part of UnitedHealth Group. “By working together and creating an interconnected system of clinical and social services, we can continue to produce better health outcomes for North Carolinians.”
The United Health Foundation and ECU also partnered in 2020 through a $1.25 million grant to expand telepsychiatry services to address the mental health needs of expectant and new mothers. Through the MOTHeRs (Maternal Outreach Using Telehealth for Rural Sites) project, ECU developed and deployed a new obstetric care model for high-risk patients and addressed food insecurity among pregnant women.