Minorities in Houston, like in other large U.S. cities, experience high rates of poverty, school dropout, and unemployment according to the latest U.S. Census. The primary and mental health needs are substantial among African American and Latino groups, which make up 67% of Houston’s population. The University of Houston is using a $500,000 grant from the Division of Academic Quality and Workforce at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to address the needs of economically disadvantaged ethnic minorities.
The Minority Health Research and Education Grant Program supports UH to launch academic-clinical partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in Houston to provide behavioral health services for economically disadvantaged populations with poor access to medical care. FQHCs are safety net clinics that provide comprehensive health care services regardless of a patient’s ability to pay or health insurance status. UH was one of the four universities selected for grant awards.
The UH clinical psychology, counseling psychology and social work programs led by Nikki Coleman and Luis Torres, respectively, are working collaboratively to establish an interprofessional education-focused, integrated behavioral health/primary clinic with Lone Star Circle of Care (LSCC) at the University of Houston, a FQHC in UH’s Health 2 building. The newly established UH College of Medicine will join the collaboration in the second year of the project.
The LSCC clinic at UH opened on April 1 and is now accepting referrals for mental health care. Doctoral and graduate students will also receive hands-on training at additional FQHCs in the city. An external evaluator from Texas Southern University will evaluate the program.
No UH admissions program includes gender or ethnicity as an admission criterion, but recruitment efforts do encourage a diverse pool of applicants that represent the needs of the city and state. The grant also permits the clinical psychology program to increase enrollment of historically underrepresented minorities.
“Our students will gain valuable clinical experience and expertise working with minority clients while also identifying the impact of collaborative, team-based care on health outcomes,” said project director Jack Fletcher, chair of the Department of Psychology. “We will also take strategic advantage of our highly diverse campus to identify strong undergraduate students who often apply to out-of-state psychology programs to help us retain graduates here in Texas.”
“There’s high comorbidity of primary health and behavioral health problems, including diabetes, obesity and mental health problems like trauma, anxiety, depression and conduct disorders, many of which lead to poor adjustment at school and work,” said co-project director Dr. William Elder, chair of the College of Medicine Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences, who notes this project will not only increase diversity in the training pool and among graduate students, but will provide a framework for interprofessional education across Texas.
Since 2013, the UH Health Initiative has provided additional, enhanced, on-campus educational opportunities that embrace diversity and serve the surrounding community and the state. Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, said this latest effort advances the larger mission of the university.
“We have put a number of these programs in place and have explored collaborations with both health providers and other academic partners for years,” she said. “Expanding those services from benefits focusing on physical wellness into benefits that focus on mental wellness is the next logical step.”