Mississippi State uses $943K grant to increase behavioral health access in rural areas

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Mississippi State University is increasing access to behavioral health services in rural communities courtesy of a $943,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The two-year funding, awarded to MSU’s Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program, addresses the shortage of behavioral health service providers in Mississippi through stipends and support to ABA master’s students and existing providers who serve in rural areas of the state.

Practitioners delivering ABA services use evidence-based practice to improve the overall quality of life and independence for a variety of individuals across the lifespan, but most frequently provide services to patients diagnosed with autism or an intellectual or developmental disability.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 36 children is diagnosed with autism nationally.

“Our state has less than one-third of the workforce needed to provide behavior-analytic services, which translates to long waitlists for families and children not getting the care they need,” Principal Investigator and ABA Program Coordinator Hallie Smith, also an assistant professor in the department, said. “With this grant, we will be able to increase the number of providers and better meet the needs of children, adolescents, and young adults in rural and underserved communities in Mississippi.”

Smith is joined by fellow departmental faculty members — Assistant Professor Stephanie Mattson, Assistant Clinical Professor Hailey Spinks, Assistant Teaching Professor Jordan Spencer, Assistant Professor of Practice Beca Spencer, and Assistant Professor Meredith Staggers.

The team will use the funds for stipends to second-year ABA graduate students engaged in practicum experiences in rural, underserved areas of the state, as well as stipends and continuing education reimbursement to their on-site supervisors.

Grant funds will also be used to develop a statewide early-career mentor program to support new graduates entering the workforce in rural areas and to provide professional development activities for behavioral health service providers.

“We’re placing many new Board Certified Behavior Analysts in the field, but they need support, especially in rural areas,” Daniel Gadke, associate dean of research, professor, and department head, said. “I’m proud of the work this team is doing to not only increase access to behavioral health services but to also meet the needs of our newly graduated students and other providers in Mississippi.”

Launched in 2020, MSU’s ABA graduate program leads to credentialing as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and is supported by the Hearin Foundation and the Hosemann Family Autism Foundation. Along with the ABA master’s curriculum, MSU is the only university in the state that offers an ABA minor program for undergraduate students.

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