The MGH Institute is playing a key role in helping Mass General Brigham increase the pipeline of new mental health professionals in Massachusetts over the next several years.
Bridging the healthcare gap means more than educating enough qualified nurses, occupational therapists, and physician assistants. There’s also a need for these providers to acquire mental health expertise as well, a fact Mass General Brigham recognized with last year’s rollout of its Behavioral Health Grant, an initiative that supports developing a larger behavioral health workforce statewide.
This workforce was already at crisis levels before the pandemic but during it, there has been a need to increase this workforce. There are a number of factors that have led to the workforce shortage -- demand for services, the under reimbursement of its clinical services, and the great resignation that occurred across healthcare where workers decided the profession wasn't for them anymore.
“We wanted to address the major problem that we're facing in behavioral health – a workforce shortage in all different role groups,” said Joy Rosen, Vice-President of Behavioral Mental Health for Mass General Brigham and Senior Vice President at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We're talking doctors, psychologists, nurses, social workers, physician assistants, occupational therapists, mental health assistants – the whole gamut.”
A September 2022 report by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation said the Commonwealth’s behavioral workforce was in crisis and pointed to its own survey showing that more than half (57%) of adults in the state in need of behavioral health care either “had difficulties getting appointments for care when needed or did not obtain any behavioral health care.”
To help mitigate the problem, New England’s largest care provider set aside $15 million dollars to help build the behavioral health workforce. And it’s turning to the MGH Institute – the system’s only degree-granting affiliate - and other area colleges and universities to accomplish that.
Three of the IHP’s academic departments – nursing, occupational therapy, and physician assistants – received funds to develop programs to educate a new generation of mental health professionals.
“We’re grateful that MGB recognizes the IHP can help increase the pipeline of behavioral health workers,” said President Paula Milone-Nuzzo. “There’s a tremendous need and the IHP is poised to help bridge this gap and help improve the lives of many more people. We have doubled the number of psych mental health nurse practitioner students in the last year.”
The School of Nursing is working on two initiatives:
- Developing an evidenced-based, asynchronous online preparation course for registered nurses interested in pursuing ANCC certification in Psychiatric–Mental Health Nursing
- Expanding its post-masters Certificate of Advanced Study program for nurse practitioners interested in an additional advanced practice certification in psychiatric-mental health
“An initiative like this is very important because there is a critical shortage of psychiatric providers nationally, and mental health affects everyone,” said Assistant Professor Dr. Susan Stevens, who has played a key role in developing the IHP’s psychiatric nursing specialty curriculum. “The pandemic has highlighted problems with mental healthcare in America, but these they have been present for a very long time. There are just not enough providers to service the mental health needs in the United States and around the world.”
Physician Assistant Studies
The Physician Assistants Studies program has developed an accelerated Mental Health Certificate program to provide new graduates and practicing PAs with advanced training in psychiatric care.
The PA Mental Health Certificate program is conducted over a 12-week duration covering three primary modules—Diagnostic Foundations, Neurobiological Principles, and Essential Counseling/Psychotherapy Skills. PAs will earn 50 continuing medical education (CME) credits throughout this primarily self-paced module. Throughout the twelve weeks, they will have four live virtual workshops where they can network, collaborate and obtain additional mentorship. In addition, students completing this program will be well prepared to sit for the NCCPA Certificate of Additional Qualification Exam in Psychiatry.
“This mental health certificate initiative is the pathway for PA graduates and practicing PAs to obtain specialized training in mental health, which furthers our goal to increase the number of PAs providing direct mental health services.” said Acting Department Chair and Assistant Professor Joshua Merson.
The department’s goals are two-fold: increase the number of OTs who want to pursue full-time psychiatric/mental health practice, and support OTs who currently are focused on behavioral health. The following academic and clinical partnerships are being developed:
- An incentivized mental health student clinical placement model, with stipends to students and supervisors, to increase capacity for full-time training in mental health practice settings. These include several MGB affiliates and other community settings such as the Home for Little Wanderers.
- A continuing professional development offering for OTs in mental health with an emphasis on evidence-based recovery models.
- A faculty-led, student pro-bono telehealth support group focused on community reintegration. Currently, the IHP is partnering with OTs at Salem Hospital’s Partial Hospitalization Program to deliver a telehealth group using an integrative health model.
“We are supporting a variety of populations including adults and transition age youth and adolescents who experience significant gaps in mental health care delivery,” said Dr. Regina Doherty, Chair of the Occupational Therapy Department. “We’re looking forward to continuing to play an important role in promoting mental health and supporting participation for individuals (and communities) at risk of or experiencing mental health disorders.”
While it’s early in the process given the initiative’s three-to-five-year horizon, Rosen is counting on the IHP, and other institutions help build the workforce of mental health professionals in all facets of care.
“We hope to encourage nurse practitioners to want to become more comfortable and more excited about working as a Psychiatric NP and working with patients with psychiatric disorders,” said Rosen. “We're hoping that the curriculum that IHP is developing in the physician assistant area will increase the number of PAs who go into this field. And then we've seen a real lack of occupational therapists in general who work in the psychiatric area. We're hoping that through this program, we see more people in occupational therapy who not only want to work in the behavioral health field but feel very comfortable about it.”