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Integrative Engagement Initiative

Designing, implementing, and expanding mental health and health services often rely on path dependence, typically comprised of the same set of established tools and models. The IEI seeks to utilize models outside of traditional health services to explore, develop, and advance new pathways for improving access to care, strengthening engagement, and expanding service utilization.

The IEI involves novel approaches to innovate access to and engagement with mental health services through research activities that incorporate process and planning solutions, as well as problem-solving methods from fields outside of traditional health services, including technology, engineering, and management. For example, methods such as Lean, Six Sigma, Design for Six Sigma, and design thinking, which are well-known in other fields, improve process quality and efficiency by reducing variation and waste due to systematic failures, mistakes, and/or errors and build quality into the design of processes, such as referral, transfer, and intake. This integrative interdisciplinary approach offers unique opportunities to advance health and mental health engagement and service utilization.

IEI Objectives

• Integrate, adapt, and incorporate process and planning solutions, problem-solving methods, and design approaches from fields outside of traditional mental health services, including technology, engineering, and management

• Improve existing and advance new pathways to promote access to mental health care, strengthen treatment engagement, and expand service utilization

• Increase service delivery, access, and utilization for underserved racial, ethnic, cultural, and stigmatized populations

• Develop and disseminate strategies, knowledge, and interventions to support consumer access to mental health treatment, maintain consumers in treatment, and improve consumer outcomes and recovery

IEI Program Chairs

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Dr. Jamison V. Kovach
Dr. Kovach is the PMI Houston Endowed Professor in Project Management at the University of Houston. She earned her Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Clemson University. Her industrial experience includes more than five years as a product and process improvement engineer in the U.S. textile industry. Her current research investigates the use of methods for product and process innovation, expanding the use of these methods, and developing new improvement approaches in a wide range of industries/fields including mental health and substance use treatment. In recognition of her work, Dr. Kovach was awarded the 2010 ASQ (formerly the American Society for Quality) Feigenbaum Medal. She is an Academician in the International Academy for Quality and an ASQ Fellow. Dr. Kovach currently serves as the Editor for Lean & Six Sigma Review, a quarterly ASQ publication, and she received the ASQ Six Sigma Forum Award for the Advancement of Six Sigma in 2019. 

Dr. Robin E. Gearingrg-web-2.jpg
Dr. Gearing is a Professor of Social Work and the Director of The MH-RITES Research Center. Dr. Gearing’s research focuses on improving the mental health outcomes of adolescents and young adults with serious mental illnesses and their families. His research is driven by an interest in informing and improving engagement to empirically-supported psychosocial and medication treatment and developing evidence-based interventions. This interest is the result of more than 25 years of clinical work with youth, resulting in firsthand professional knowledge of the needs and gaps in the field. As a researcher, his areas of expertise are schizophrenia spectrum disorders, depressive disorders, and suicide intervention. Dr. Gearing’s work focuses on engagement with mental health services, including culturally informed adaptations of empirically-supported interventions. His research collaborations nationally and internationally concentrate on innovative strategies for treatment engagement, addressing mental health stigma, and facilitating service utilization. 


National Research

The Houston Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT).
Researchers: R. Gearing (Co-PI), J. Kovach (Co-PI), and M. Washburn

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Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

Research Objectives:
This grant developed a collaborative partnership between University of Houston, The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, University of Texas (UT) Health McGovern Medical School Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Harris County Psychiatric Center, and Harris County Probate Courts to share expertise to improve supports, services, processes, engagement and outcomes for individuals with serious mental illness (SMI). The goal of The Houston AOT (Assisted Outpatient Treatment) Program is to reduce the incidence and duration of psychiatric hospitalization, emergency healthcare service usage, homelessness, incarceration, and other interactions with the criminal justice system by improving sustained treatment engagement, treatment adherence, and functional outcomes for adults age 18 years and older with SMI in Harris County, Texas. In this project, we will evaluate the development of an AOT program through formative and summative evaluation components to ensure its congruence with program participants’ needs, state law, and program goals. In addition, this evaluation will inform continual program improvement and quality assurance efforts.

Funding: SM082923-01 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 07/2020-07/2024


Fort Bend County Mental Health in Justice System: Stepping Up.
Researchers: R. Gearing (Co-PI), J. Kovach (Co-PI), and J. Barthelemy

Research Objectives:
This grant developed a collaborative partnership between University of Houston and Fort Bent County Behavioral Health Services to share expertise to improve services, processes, client engagement, and client outcomes. The grant is designed to reduce the prevalence of individuals with mental illness and co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse (MI/CMISA) in jails and prevent subsequent justice system involvement. The overall goal is to reduce the number of people with MI/CMISA booked into jail, their average length of stay, recidivism rates, and to improve connections to treatment. The proposal will also address the ongoing negative impacts on justice-involved individuals with MI/CMISA by strengthening the County’s current collaborative approaches to reduce the prevalence of individuals with MI/CMISA in jail and prevent subsequent justice system involvement. In this project, we will evaluate the collaborative program developed and implemented by Fort Bend County to meaningfully identify, assess, and treat individuals with MI/CMISA.

Funding: BJA-2019-15100 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), 10/2019-09/2021


Behavioral Health Service Process Improvement and Program Engagement (BHS-Prime).
Researchers: R. Gearing (Co-PI), J. Kovach (Co-PI)

Research Objectives:
This grant was a collaborative partnership between University of Houston and Fort Bent County Behavioral Health Services (BHS) to share expertise to improve services, processes, client engagement, and client outcomes. The overall goals of this project were to assist BHS with 1) identifying and writing grants to increase their resources and services and 2) mapping their current behavioral health processes and supporting efforts to improve their existing processes.

Funding: Fort Bend County Behavioral Health Services (BHS), 08/2019-07/2020