United Health Foundation awards $3.2 million to improve youth mental health

The United Health Foundation, the philanthropic foundation of UnitedHealth Group, has announced a three year, $3.2 million grant partnership with ECU. The grant will expand the North Carolina Statewide Telepsychiatry Program in six community-based pediatric and primary care clinics in rural and underserved parts of the state to support the mental health and well-being of young people in North Carolina.

“Just like we take care of our physical health, it’s important that we take care of our mental health as well,” Gov. Roy Cooper said during the Feb. 14 announcement at the East Carolina Heart Institute. “This partnership will help reach even more young people in our rural and historically underserved communities.”

ECU Chancellor Philip Rogers said: “The investment will increase the university’s outreach to the region and provide mental health services to underserved populations in North Carolina. ECU students across multiple disciplines will engage with this project, leading to increased learning opportunities preparing them to address the critical shortage of mental health professionals.”

The America’s Health Rankings 2022 Health of Women and Children Report revealed anxiety among children and adolescents increased 23% and depression increased 27% between 2017-2018 and 2020-2021. In North Carolina, more than 70% of children with a mental health disorder do not receive treatment, and 92% of North Carolina counties are designated as mental health professional shortage areas.

Over three years, project leaders aim to do the following:

  • Embed behavioral health providers at six community based pediatric care clinics and connect them — as well as the primary care providers — to a psychiatrist for case consultation and care planning via telepsychiatry.
  • Develop an artificial intelligence-driven portal to enhance collaboration between health care providers and encourage family members’ engagement in their child’s mental health care.
  • Educate children and families about mental health and well-being through the development of a new virtual reality video game that provides anonymous peer-to-peer support.
  • Offer training opportunities for ECU psychiatry residents, child psychiatry fellows, social work students, medical students and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners at the six community clinics.
  • Hold an Interdisciplinary Telehealth Summit to share lessons learned from the project.

“By working together and creating an interconnected system of clinical and social services, we can continue to produce better health outcomes for North Carolinians,” said Anita Bachmann, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of North Carolina, part of UnitedHealth Group.