Western Connecticut State University will use a $1.8 million federal grant to improve and expand training for students in programs that teach them how to respond to mental health crises.
Dr. Gabriel Lomas, professor of Education and Educational Psychology, led the application for the grant, which was made available through last year’s passage of the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, which was supported by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) as an original cosponsor of the bill.
“A key aspect is to grow our program so we can increase the behavioral health workforce in the area,” Lomas said. “We will be able to place more students in primary care with physicians and train all students in the behavioral health program in trauma and crisis models. If we have space, members of the community will be able to take the training, too.”
The grant is the largest research grant the university has received, surpassing the $1.6 million grant earned last year by Dr. Neeta Connolly, assistant professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences, to study the ticks that transmit Lyme disease.
“Too many kids and adults with mental health needs in this country don’t get the timely care they need for one reason: we don’t have enough trained behavioral health specialists to care for them,” Murphy said. “I worked hard to reauthorize this grant program as part of my Mental Health Reform Act because I believe that it should be as easy to access a doctor or get prescriptions for an illness of the mind as it is for an illness of the body.”
The Mental Health Reform Act reauthorized the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, which approved WestConn’s four-year grant.
“WCSU prides itself in being a community partner, developing curricula that are responsive to regional needs,” said WestConn Provost Dr. Missy Alexander. “This grant is just another example of our commitment to Danbury and the surrounding area. We are extremely proud of Dr. Lomas and the work that he has done to secure these funds.”
Patricia Ivry, dean of the School of Professional Studies, said the grant confirms the good work of the department and of Lomas.
“Receipt of this grant calls attention to the significant demand for the region to prepare professionals to address mental health issues,” Ivry said. “Working collaboratively with other SPS departments such as nursing, social work and health promotion, Dr. Lomas enriched his proposal. The results will be felt with more qualified professionals serving the mental health needs in the area. We are proud to take the lead in this initiative and thrilled to have faculty like Dr. Lomas in our school.”
Lomas came to WestConn with a strong background in helping communities respond to crisis. He was a member of a school-based crisis response team and clinical crisis response team in Texas, and he helped to create a Regional Crisis Team in the Western part of Connecticut to assist area schools in crisis response preparation. When a disaster happens, the team pools the resources of the university and school districts to provide support immediately after an event such as a shooting, death, natural disaster or other crisis.
Gabrielle Jazwicki, director of the Office of Sponsored Research Administrative Services, worked with Lomas to secure the funding.
“This grant will allow us to build on everything we have been doing over the past several years,” Lomas said. “The community will benefit as we teach more students to handle and prevent crises based in behavioral health.”
For more information, call the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.