Upstate Foundation Gets Grant to Improve Treatment of Patients with Mental Health Problems

Funds to aid area primary care physicians in diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues in patients

A $100,000 grant by a Buffalo-based foundation will fund Upstate’s program to train primary care physicians in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues.

The support comes from the Patrick P. Lee Foundation, a private, Buffalo-based foundation focused on mental health and education. The Lee Foundation provided similar grants to improve access to mental health services to Horizon Health Services and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

The grant was awarded to the Upstate Foundation.

“We selected innovative programs at Horizon Health, RIT and Upstate Foundation that expand and redefine the traditional mental health workforce to include other trusted partners, such as primary care,” said Lee Foundation Executive Director Jane Mogavero. “Our goal is not to replace clinical services, but to create more opportunities.”

Upstate Medical University will utilize intensive workshops and the Project ECHO platform to increase the capacity of primary and family medicine providers in the eight counties of Central New York to systematically screen, identify, treat and appropriately refer patients suffering from mental health disorders. In Project ECHO, which uses video technology, Upstate experts function as the “hub” to deliver education, knowledge and best practices to the primary care clinicians in the region.

The goal is for primary providers to enhance their competencies in the treatment of mild to moderate mental health disorders and provide much needed mental health care in a timely and appropriate manner. Upstate will also provide information about appropriate referrals, particularly with complex situations, encourage comfort in a consultation model and enable the development of a collaborative care pathway between the providers and psychiatrists.

Physician Nevena Radonjic and Seetha Ramanathan, from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, are leading this project and applaud this opportunity to support greater access to mental health expertise for patients.

“Most primary care physicians are already addressing a large number of mental health issues in their patients,” explains Radonjic. “This effort, supported by the Lee Foundation, will help strengthen their capabilities. We anticipate that at the end of every cycle of training, primary care physicians will be able to notice an increase in their competencies to address a range of mental health needs and make appropriate referrals when needed.”

“This effort will not only improve competencies, but can also act as the first step towards establishing a more streamlined system of care between the primary care and mental health systems,” says Ramanathan.

An estimated 122 million Americans — including 4 million in New York — live in a mental health shortage area, as designated by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Although the workforce shortage existed prior to the pandemic, the recent increase in demand for mental health services has made the situation even more critical. In 2020, four in 10 adults in the United States reported symptoms of anxiety or depression – a significant increase from the previous year when one in 10 adults reported these symptoms.