Latest News & Events News & Insights

Grow Your Own: An Innovative Program to Increase Access to Behavioral Health in Rural American Communities

Addressing health provider shortages by upskilling nurse practitioners already living and working in rural and underserved communities to integrate behavioral health into their practices and provide a more holistic level of care to their patients.
rural nurses.png rural nurses.png

Lack of mental health professionals is the most significant challenge preventing rural Americans from receiving mental healthcare. Data surrounding behavioral health shows that depression, substance use disorders and suicide rates are higher in communities lacking in professional behavioral health providers. A joint effort launched earlier this year by Janssen Neuroscience and the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation (the Center) is seeking to change that.

The program, “Grow Your Own,” co-funded by Johnson & Johnson Foundation and Janssen, is a grassroots initiative in partnership with the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence to recruit at least 20 advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) from rural and underserved communities in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming to be Janssen/Johnson & Johnson Foundation Behavioral Health Fellows. Over a period of three years, these Fellows will apply to and complete an accredited post graduate Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Certification to augment their graduate level nurse practitioner degree with substantial behavioral health skills and knowledge, including 650 clinical hours in addition to their academic obligations.

“This partnership stemmed from conversations with the Johnson & Johnson Nursing team to explore innovative opportunities to address nursing shortages in rural communities,” says Peg Forrestel, Director, Local Community Impact at Janssen, who was looking to align Janssen’s business objectives with the enterprise-wide commitment to strengthen the frontline health workforce and advance health equity.

The program is designed to transform the health of rural communities by keeping talent in those communities and building upon their own resources. By recruiting and upskilling nurse practitioners with established primary care practices in underserved areas, the program will enable them to integrate behavioral health and provide their patients a more holistic level of care.

“The work being done by the Center for Health Worker Innovation and the nursing team has real relevance in each of our therapeutic areas, and the communities where our campuses exist,” adds Forrestel. “A lab to last mile approach that connected our work at Janssen to strengthening the frontline health workforce was a new opportunity for us and we began the journey to bring the two together.”

Unlike in some other states, nurse practitioners in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming can operate independently, and do not need to practice under a licensed physician. “This makes such programs that much more impactful,” explains Forrestel. “It addresses the healthcare provider shortages and the real need to improve access to behavioral health services in these states.”

Recruits will be pulled from over 4,500 APRNs already living and working in rural and underserved communities in the three states. All will then integrate behavioral health into their practices and commit to stay and serve in their community, or a similar one, for two years for each year of funding they receive. They also will participate in a “Pay it Forward” drive by which they will provide guidance for future waves of PMHNP students.

To support the Fellows and help them be successful, multiple wrap-around resources will be provided to them as part of this program. This includes extensive mentoring and counseling on everything from achieving a healthy work-life balance to academic and professional coaching and securing financial assistance to set up an integrated practice upon graduation.

“We want to help institute systemic change in these areas of need,” says Forrestel. “Ultimately, the program aims to create a sustainable model that creates access to both primary and behavioral healthcare, and the outcome will be healthier communities. The strategic impact would be to demonstrate an evidenced-based replicable design for other communities and states beyond the current three state region.”