Five Questions With: Jayashree Nimmagadda

JAYASHREE NIMMAGADDA, a Rhode Island College School of Social Work professor, oversees a federal grant designed to expand Rhode Island’s cohort of mental health providers and substance abuse counselors. / COURTESY RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE
JAYASHREE NIMMAGADDA, a Rhode Island College School of Social Work professor, oversees a federal grant designed to expand Rhode Island’s cohort of mental health providers and substance abuse counselors. / COURTESY RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE

Jayashree Nimmagadda is a professor in the Master of Social Work Program at Rhode Island College’s School of Social Work. Nimmagadda earned her MSW from Stella Maris College in Chennai, India, a post-master’s degree in psychiatric social work from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bengaluru, India, and her Ph.D. in social work from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is a licensed independent clinical social worker.

Rhode Island College was recently awarded a grant of $159,555 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to increase the number of mental health providers and substance abuse counselors in Rhode Island. Nimmagadda spoke recently with Providence Business News about the grant and what she hopes it will achieve.

PBN: Tell us about the scope and purpose of the grant that the HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration awarded to Rhode Island College.

NIMMAGADDA: The purpose of this Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training grant (#G02HP27958) is to increase the number of trained behavioral health clinicians who work with children, adolescents and transitioned-aged youth who are at risk for developing or have mental health challenges. The grant supports education and clinical training of RIC students pursuing an MSW degree to work with this population. By preparing and graduating social work clinicians trained specifically to work with children and adolescents, this grant hopes to bridge the gap in access to services for families who are seeking help.

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The purpose of the RIC project, “Trauma Informed Collaborative Care Education,” is to increase the number of students who earn an MSW degree from RIC’s School of Social Work and pursue clinical work with at-risk children and youth, with a focus on youth transitioning out of the state’s foster care system. Funds from the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training grant will enable us to recruit additional full-time students, allow selected part-time students to pursue full-time education in clinical social work and increase the number of clinical social work graduates with inter-professional competencies, clinical social work skills and the commitment to pursue a job working with at-risk children and youth who have been exposed to trauma. Funding has allowed RIC’s School of Social Work to provide one $10,000 stipend to each of 10 second-year MSW-level students during this academic year and expand the number of field placement options, with particular attention to developing new field placement sites that work with at-risk youth, especially adolescents aging out of Rhode Island’s foster care system.

PBN: What expertise does Rhode Island College possess that makes it a logical grant recipient?

NIMMAGADDA: RIC’s School of Social Work educates and trains approximately 75 percent of the social workers who hold MSW degrees practicing in Rhode Island, including many who are leaders of nonprofit and government agencies. For more than 35 years, the School of Social Work has been dedicated to training clinical social workers in Rhode Island, and teaching students strategies for creating and sustaining social and economic justice.

The current mission statement, only the second in the school’s history, recognizes its roots as the only graduate social work program in Rhode Island and its ongoing intention to prepare students for work in human services, both as clinicians and advocates. This history is an asset to the Trauma Informed Collaborative Care Education project, as the School of Social Work has longstanding relationships with clinical social work practices in Rhode Island and human service agencies that work with vulnerable youth throughout the state.

Specific attention to meeting the needs of traumatized children, adolescents and youth in transition is integrated into the School of Social Work’s curriculum through participation in the National Center for Social Work Trauma Education and Workforce Development, a joint initiative of Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service and Hunter College School of Social Work. The curriculum for this initiative has been developed by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and our MSW program has been part of this initiative for the past three years. Students who choose this specialization will take courses that address core concepts in child and adolescent trauma using a problem-based learning approach, where content has been built around case vignettes developed by a panel of national child trauma experts. Trauma-informed, evidence-based practice and treatment strategies are also taught. Students are concurrently placed in internships to work with traumatized children and adolescents to get hands-on experience.

Inter-professional education and specific attention to collaboration with other health care professions are integrated in both years of our MSW curriculum and will be a core part of the Trauma Informed Collaborative Care Education project. All social work students who receive grant stipends will participate in the Rhode Island Interprofessional Education Collaborative, to which RIC’s School of Social Work and School of Nursing, The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, the University of Rhode Island College of Nursing, College of Pharmacy and School of Physical Therapy, belong. Our MSW students have been engaged in inter-professional education for the past five years through this collaborative.

PBN: Why is this grant important, and how will it meet Rhode Island’s unmet needs with respect to mental health providers and substance abuse counselors?

NIMMAGADDA: With regard to the mental health landscape for youth in Rhode Island, of the 1,573 children and youth who received inpatient psychiatric treatment between Oct. 1, 2014 and Sept. 30, 2015, 48 percent had a primary diagnosis of depressive disorders, 24 percent bipolar disorders, 14 percent anxiety and 4 percent adjustment disorder, according to the 2016 Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Factbook.

In Rhode Island, 19 percent of youth, ages 9-17, have a diagnosable mental health disorder, which is parallel to national data, according to the 2016 KIDS COUNT Factbook. Additionally, the 2016 Factbook indicates that 34 percent of Rhode Island children who needed mental health treatment or counseling in the previous 12 months did not receive it. Unfortunately, children involved in Rhode Island’s child welfare system face resource shortages that ultimately harm their mental health over time, as the state’s fragmented and crisis-driven mental health system devotes the vast proportion of funding to psychiatric hospitalizations rather than to prevention and out-patient/community-based services, the Factbook reported.

The focus of this project is to train our MSW interns in trauma-informed care of children, adolescents and young adults with an emphasis on working with youth aging out of the foster care system. Because there is such a paucity of targeted mental health services in Rhode Island for this particular population, the project’s focus would best be served with an intense push toward mental health assessment and treatment of trauma. Additionally, the fragmented nature of current service provision speaks to the importance of integrating an inter-professional education component into the project. This focus on trauma-informed assessment and treatment and inter-professional collaboration, with integrating primary care with behavioral health care, will help us bridge much needed gaps in services.

PBN: What are your chief responsibilities with respect to administering the grant, and how will RIC spend the $159,555 in federal grant funds?

NIMMAGADDA: This is the third year of the grant; with these new funds, we have received a total of $451,802. Under the Health Resources and Services Administration’s rules, 70 percent of the grant is for stipends for students who are passionate about working with children, adolescent and transition-aged youth and who commit to work with this population for at least two years post-graduation. Each student selected to be part of this project receives one $10,000 stipend. Using funds from this grant, we also offer free trainings for MSWs and other behavioral health clinicians in the community who want to learn about child and adolescent trauma assessment and treatment. Our next training will be offered next month.

This grant also propelled the school to develop a Certificate of Graduate Studies in Child and Adolescent Trauma, which the RIC curriculum committee approved. This 18-credit certificate program is completed by all Trauma Informed Collaborative Care Education project students. It is also open to any second-year MSW students, individuals who hold an MSW degree or a master’s degree in counseling who wish to gain more knowledge and skills in child and adolescent trauma. This work is possible with the help and support of RIC School of Social Work Assistant Professor Daniel Harvey, Family Service of Rhode Island’s Senior Vice President Dr. Sue Erstling and Family Service of Rhode Island’s Senior Clinical Administrator Sarah Kelly-Palmer.

PBN: What do you expect – or hope – to achieve with this grant; what will success look like?

NIMMAGADDA: The goal is to graduate MSW students trained in child and adolescent trauma assessment and treatment. The stipend is to facilitate students’ transition from part-time students to full-time students so that they can graduate earlier, which would allow them to enter the behavioral health workforce sooner. As of August 2016, 15 students have graduated from this program, and all are working in agencies serving children, adolescents and/or transitional-aged youths; 14 are employed in Rhode Island and one is working in southeastern Massachusetts. Ten additional students are expected to graduate in May 2017, and a final cohort of eight students will begin their training in May 2017, with graduation expected in May 2018. In all, through this grant, we hope to add 33 trained clinical social workers to our child/adolescent behavioral health workforce in Rhode Island.

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