Helping Diverse Populations Access Behavioral Health Care
People from diverse racial and ethnic populations, as well as sexual and gender minority groups, often have trouble accessing quality care for behavioral health conditions. Obstacles include a lack of culturally appropriate practitioners, language barriers, and inexperience in navigating complex systems. Half of uninsured Americans are racial or ethnic minorities.1
To address this problem, and in accordance with the Affordable Care Act, SAMHSA created the Office of Behavioral Health Equity (OBHE). OBHE is one of six offices focusing on minority health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Together, these offices work to achieve goals set by policies such as the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities and White House Minority Initiatives and Executive Orders.
According to OBHE Director Larke Huang, Ph.D., "Our strategies are driven by federal policies and by community needs. We look for ways SAMHSA can improve access to quality services, enabling all individuals and families to thrive, participate in, and contribute to healthy communities."
OBHE uses data to identify disparities in access, services, and outcomes of care; ensure that the needs of diverse populations are addressed in SAMHSA's policies; provide training to enable practitioners to better serve these groups; and promote communication and public awareness campaigns that include outreach to underserved populations.
Although relatively new, OBHE has several workforce initiatives in place. OBHE's National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health (NNED) partnered with the National Latino Behavioral Health Association this March for NNEDLearn2012. This meeting provided training in evidence-supported and culturally appropriate practices for 150 behavioral health practitioners and administrators from community-based organizations that work with racial and ethnic minority communities.
OBHE worked with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium to convene a Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) Behavioral Health Institute, which engaged TCU presidents and students in the development of strategies to expand behavioral health services on campuses and to encourage students to consider careers in the field. Sessions covered addictions counseling certification, suicide prevention, and communications strategies for behavioral health promotion.
The Master Trainer Development Program for the Pacific Jurisdictions, a partnership with Pacific Behavioral Health Collaborating Council, supports a one-year training effort for Pacific Islanders. It trains candidates across six jurisdictions in areas such as Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) and co-occurring disorders, so that candidates can then train others in behavioral health services.
For more information on SAMHSA's OBHE, visit the newly launched website at www.samhsa.gov/obhe.
1 DeNavas-Walt, C., Proctor, B. D., & Smith,
J. C. (2010). Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2009 (U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60238). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.