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PrimeCare receives $1.9 million HRSA grant

The School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced today that UNC-PrimeCare, a specialized program in integrated behavioral health, has received a four-year $1.9 million federal award from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). This award follows a previous three-year award that established UNC-PrimeCare in 2014.
“PrimeCare puts social workers into health and behavioral health care settings to help treat individuals holistically,” explained Lisa de Saxe Zerden, senior associate dean at the School of Social Work and principal investigator for the project.
“This aligns well with where social work jobs are forecast to be,” Zerden said. “This area of social work is expected to grow 20 percent over the next 10 years.”
PrimeCare works with participating health care facilities, clinics and health centers in North Carolina, where Master of Social Work (MSW) students become part of a team of providers. MSW students on these interprofessional teams help address social factors that impact a patient’s health — for example, by helping resolve food insecurity in the home, finding transportation options to ensure a patient can travel to medical appointments or treating behavioral health conditions through brief treatment interventions.
In integrated settings, social workers can work with health providers to find appropriate treatment options for patients with mental health conditions, substance use disorders or other challenges that may not be addressed by a general medical practice.
“Social workers are so flexible in what they do — they can craft what’s needed based on the setting and the patients,” Zerden said, adding that this is one reason that integrated behavioral health programs such as PrimeCare have become a popular approach to care delivery.
“During the first year, we really had to ‘sell’ the program,” she noted. “After that first year, people were calling us [to host PrimeCare students] — we have had placements from the mountains to the coast and everywhere in between.”
The program has evolved from its original design. Initially, PrimeCare focused on services for children and young adults (25 and younger). Now, the new iteration of the grant focuses on serving individuals across the life span from birth to death with an emphasis on rural and underserved communities and populations. In addition, PrimeCare is expanding the behavioral health workforce through partnering with the UNC School of Nursing. This interprofessional partnership will engage students who are preparing to become psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners.
So far, more than 90 MSW students have been trained by PrimeCare. With this new funding, PrimeCare will select 30 students each year through a competitive process to participate in the program. Each student will complete a field placement in an integrated behavioral health setting. The student receives a $10,000 stipend as a trainee to help cover school and work expenses.
All PrimeCare students complete rigorous training as part of their participation, including coursework in integrated behavioral health and seminars in core competencies, beyond their master’s degree coursework.
In addition to its direct benefits, the program has contributed to research about the role of social work in the health care workforce.
“UNC is really seen as a leader in integrated behavioral healthcare within social work and broadly within the state,” Zerden said. “We are lucky to have a strong project team with Anne Jones, Meryl Kanfer, Steve Day, Cheryl Giscombe from the School of Nursing and a strong field team to help implement this important project.”
For more information about UNC-PrimeCare, visit: