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Dartmouth-Hitchcock gets new grant to train N.H. rural communities in mental health support

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
Allison Quantz

The Human Resources & Services Administration awarded Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center a $1.365 million grant to fund training and mentoring for New Hampshire’s rural behavioral health workforce. The budget will benefit Cheshire, Grafton, Coos, Sullivan, Carroll, and Belknap counties.

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Some of the most common difficulties in the state’s rural areas are depression, alcohol and opioid use, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

The three-year grant intends to boost the behavioral health system in rural areas, which have a more challenging time recruiting and retaining the workforce due to isolation and the pay differentials between private practice and community mental health centers.

According to Dartmouth-Hitchcock health officials, roughly a quarter of the workforce of the community centers in New Hampshire turns over every year.

“It takes an average of 130 days in our rural environment to fill an open vacancy. So that’s a third of the year that it takes to attract a person to come and take that position,” said Dr. Sally Kraft, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s vice president of population health.

And the state’s mental health workforce is not as large as neighboring states.

New Hampshire has fewer licensed mental health care providers, social workers, licensed social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists than Vermont or Massachusetts, “by a significant amount in rural areas, where people sometimes can’t find support,” said Dr. Kraft.

“That's why it is extremely important to be training and to be recruiting licensed providers into our state to meet the unmet mental health care needs,” said Dr. Will Torrey, professor of psychiatry at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine.

The grant will also train community members like teachers, school nurses, and counselors to help as they’re needed in their areas.

The people interested in participating will be trained through a model called Project Echo, which provides virtual learning and mentoring. The program creates a virtual space to share experiences working with people who need assistance.

“That's the kind of support that we want to build throughout the community, so everyone can say I have some understanding of how to be a good support, and I have some skills and knowledge about how I can help my neighbor, my child, my employee,” says Kraft.

Corrected: January 24, 2022 at 2:18 PM EST
This story was corrected to change Dr. Will Torrey's title and Dartmouth Hitchcock's.
Gabriela Lozada is a Report for America corps member. Her focus is on Latinx community with original reporting done in Spanish for ¿Qué hay de Nuevo NH?.

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