March 03, 2022 | Highlighted

Mankato, Minn. – Minnesota State University, Mankato’s College of Allied Health and Nursing will establish a Rural Behavioral Health Center in the fall to improve access to behavioral health care for residents outside of Minnesota, in order to include residents of recognized reserves.

A 2021 Minnesota Department of Health Workforce Report (see page 20) shows that 80% of Minnesota counties are considered mental health professional shortage areas.

The Minnesota State Mankato Center for Rural Behavioral Health will address this shortage, Minnesota State President Edward Inch said.

“By establishing the Center for Rural Behavioral Health, the University will help address the mental health care shortage in the outstate of Minnesota,” Inch said. “The Center will work with community partners on research while seeking state and federal funding to develop a culturally representative behavioral healthcare workforce in rural Minnesota.”

The founding director of the Center for Rural Behavioral Health is Thad Shunkwiler, a Minnesota State professor of health sciences at Mankato.

“The data is clear,” Shunkwiler said. “There is a growing problem in access to behavioral health care in rural Minnesota. The goal of the center is to begin to solve this problem with concrete solutions.

“While conversations about mental health are important and necessary, what is often omitted from these stories is who will provide mental health care in rural areas. Residents of rural communities who lack mental health professionals may have to travel great distances to receive care and wait long periods of time for care. In some counties, residents are lucky to have someone providing care.

Shunkwiler said COVID-19 has exacerbated behavioral health issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Shunkwiler said, the United States suffered more than 100,000 drug overdoses in 2021, a record.

Shunkwiler said the center will achieve its mission through research, workforce development and continuing education, such as providing training required by the Minnesota state licensing board.

Kris Retherford, dean of Minnesota State’s College of Allied Health and Nursing in Mankato, said the Center for Rural Behavioral Health will provide collaborative opportunities focused on behavioral health across the university and in the community.

“The center will focus on scholarly activities that are multidisciplinary in nature and aimed at improving the quality of and access to resources in the outstate of Minnesota,” Retherford said. “I also hope that the findings and partnerships will lead to increased awareness of this important topic.”

Minnesota Mankato State currently offers five academic programs that prepare behavioral health professionals at three colleges, and faculty and students in these programs will be able to collaborate on academic and clinical work and curricula through the middle of the center.

Academic programs that prepare behavioral health professionals include programs in alcohol and drug studies, nursing, and social work (all at the College of Allied Health and Nursing); Student Council and Staff (College of Education); and the Doctoral Program in School Psychology (College of Social and Behavioral Sciences).

For more information on the Center for Rural Behavioral Health, please contact Thad Shunkwiler by email at [email protected] or by phone at 507-389-1397.

Minnesota State Mankato, a comprehensive university with 14,546 students, is part of the Minnesota State System, which includes 30 colleges and seven universities.

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