Blue & You Foundation Gives $600,000 to School of Social Work

L-R: Mark Power, U of A vice chancellor for university advancement; Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross; Rebecca Pittillo, executive director of the Blue & You Foundation; Kim Stauss, chair of the School of Social Work; and Ananda Rosa, field education director of the School of Social Work, at the Blue & You Foundation's gift announcement ceremony.
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L-R: Mark Power, U of A vice chancellor for university advancement; Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross; Rebecca Pittillo, executive director of the Blue & You Foundation; Kim Stauss, chair of the School of Social Work; and Ananda Rosa, field education director of the School of Social Work, at the Blue & You Foundation's gift announcement ceremony.

As part of a large investment in behavioral health programs benefiting Arkansas, the U of A School of Social Work will be the recipient of a $600,000 grant from Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas.

This grant is part of a recently announced $5.29 million investment by the Blue & You Foundation, which is the largest in its history.

The U of A’s School of Social Work is expected to use the grant to train more licensed clinical social workers and prepare them for careers in primary care facilities throughout Arkansas.

“We are so grateful for this gift and for the investment that the Blue & You Foundation is making in Arkansas communities,” said Ananda Rosa, field education director for the School of Social Work and a licensed clinical social worker herself. “We are inspired by the opportunity to support the next generation of licensed clinical social workers who will be representative of the diversity of Arkansas, and to be able to help serve the mental health needs of our community.”

A total of $1.735 million will be provided to three universities to support their Master of Social Work programs to train LCSWs in primary care settings. At the U of A, this will form a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Endowment of $500,000 to directly support students in the School of Social Work’s program as well as an additional $100,000 to support start-up and administrative costs.

“What an incredible gift and investment in the betterment of Arkansas this is for us all,” said Todd Shields, dean of the U of A’s Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, which is home to the School of Social Work. “We are so honored that the Blue & You Foundation would include us among such amazing, positive change-makers in our state. Thanks to the foundation, we’ll now have even more opportunities to help Arkansans and provide meaningful career possibilities to our students.” 

The Blue & You Foundation’s investment is focused on eight Arkansas programs led by six established organizations that will address the growing behavioral health crisis in the state. 

To meet the unique needs of Arkansans, the grants support programs that address behavioral health needs at all stages of life — from early childhood through adolescence and into adulthood — along with helping to increase the number of behavioral health professionals serving our communities. 

The Blue & You Foundation is a charitable foundation established and funded by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield to promote better health in Arkansas. 

“We believe that addressing the behavioral healthcare needs of our state requires collaboration with local organizations that have demonstrated success in increasing access, improving outcomes and reducing stigma,” said Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross. “We recognize the impact behavioral health can have on the health of individuals, families and communities as a whole. With these investments, we can help create healthier communities and give hope to those in need, while normalizing the conversation around behavioral health.” 

Kimberly Stauss, professor and chair of the School of Social Work, agreed and said this gift will also be critical to help the school recruit and educate more Latinx and Pacific Islander students, which is particularly important because Arkansans in these groups are underrepresented in the field and also have faced inequities and barriers to behavioral health care.

Rosa added that the gift “also lends itself nicely to building on and strengthening the community partnerships we already have in place as we work together to provide increased services in the community.”

Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock will likewise receive $500,000 each for their programs, with an additional $30,000 and $105,000, respectively, for administrative costs.

Across the U.S., behavioral health conditions, including mental and substance use disorders, have been on the rise since 2014 and have risen even more sharply since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In Arkansas, the issue is particularly serious. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that incidents of suicide, along with symptoms of anxiety and depression, are prevalent in Arkansas at rates higher than the national average. 

There is also an unmet need for behavioral healthcare in the state, with 65.7 percent of adolescents reported having not received treatment for a major depressive episode, also significantly higher than the national average. 

“It doesn’t matter who you are, or what demographic you are from; we will all eventually face issues that cause us distress, such as the death of a loved one, workplace stress and interpersonal struggles,” Stauss said. “These issues affect our physical health as well. By providing an integrated behavioral health approach, supported by the Blue & You Foundation, we can improve the welfare of individuals dealing with mental health issues, improving outcomes and subsequently strengthening families and communities in Arkansas.”

Rosa agreed, adding that the timing of this gift is especially critical and relevant because of the mental health crisis created by the pandemic. “Personal illness, loss of a loved one, loss of income and prolonged isolation are just some of the factors that have contributed to increased anxiety, depression and other mental health crises across the country and in our community,” Rosa said.

Rosa said the scholarships created by the Blue & You Foundation’s gift will allow students from underrepresented communities to be able to overcome financial barriers that might have prevented them from getting a graduate degree.  

“It also positions the students who participate in this program to obtain the necessary experience to be able to transition into the field immediately after graduation,” Rosa said. “For Arkansas residents, the placement of M.S.W. interns in primary care settings also allows hundreds of hours of services to be delivered to members of the community without the financial or other barriers that typically exist.”

Stauss said that since the gift was given in the form of an endowment, it will allow for internship stipends to support work at primary care medical organizations in perpetuity. For the first three years, the selected students will also receive tuition support.

In addition to the recipients of the LCSW Endowments, programs selected for the Blue & You Foundation grants include several housed within Arkansas Children’s, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas Chapter of The National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Rebecca Pittillo, executive director of the Blue & You Foundation, said that “from the onset of our research and discovery process, we knew that we’d be more successful in achieving our goal to improve behavioral healthcare in Arkansas by finding established and proven programs within the Natural State.” 

“As we engaged with organizations across the state, I was amazed at the innovative approaches to challenging issues and the tremendous results already achieved,” she said. “The programs led by the grant recipients … will go a long way in helping provide immediate and long-term support for Arkansans in need.” 

Pittillo said that the programs awarded the Blue & You Foundation grants are designed to: 

·      Build life-long health, resiliency and well-being for children and families by standardizing early intervention practices and addressing the drivers of behavioral health conditions,

·      Expand the behavioral healthcare workforce and better integrate behavioral health into primary care and 

·      Remove barriers to care such as long-standing stigma around receiving behavioral health treatment. 

About the Blue & You Foundation: The Blue & You Foundation, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, serves the state of Arkansas and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. In its 20 years of operation, the Blue & You Foundation has awarded more than $40 million to more than 2,600 health-improvement programs in Arkansas. To achieve the goal of better health for all Arkansans, the Blue & You Foundation seeks to harness the power of partnership. By strategically focusing its grant funding on community-based solutions, the Foundation hopes to nurture community health leadership, foster collaboration, and innovation, and leverage financial, human and community resources to produce a measurable, positive impact. To learn more about the Foundation’s investments, visit blueandyoufoundationarkansas.org.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the top 3% of U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.

Contacts

Max Greenwood, government and media affairs
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield
501-378-2131, magreenwood@arkbluecross.com

Andra Parrish Liwag, director of communications
Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-4393, liwag@uark.edu

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