American Rescue Plan Funding to Expand Behavioral and Physical Health Care in Rural Counties

/ August 2, 2022

By Darren Layman

In providing behavioral health care across Tennessee, a common barrier we hear is the need for health care access.  But what if the access came to you – on wheels?  That’s exactly what we’re doing through Project Rural Recovery in partnership with community behavioral health providers in 10 rural, underserved Tennessee counties.

In early 2020, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services was awarded $10 million through a five-year grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant is called Promoting Integration of Primary and Behavioral Health Care.  With these funds, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services collaborated with Buffalo Valley, Inc., an alcohol and addiction treatment center based in Hohenwald, TN,  and the McNabb Center, a behavioral health organization in East Tennessee, to develop and implement Project Rural Recovery.  The program uses mobile clinics to serve the physical and behavioral health needs of rural Tennesseans in 10 counties.  Current counties covered by the program include Lawrence, Lewis, Marshall, Perry, and Wayne in southern Middle Tennessee, and Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hancock, and Jefferson in East Tennessee.  Through its first two years, Project Rural Recovery has served more than 1,600 Tennesseans.

If people have health insurance, services can be billed through their insurance. However, services are free if an individual does not have insurance.

People have sought care for a wide range of reasons, from sinus infections to severe mental illness. Many individuals report multiple reasons for visit, such as both physical and mental health concerns.

Each mobile health unit is staffed with a nurse practitioner and support staff to help clients with a variety of needs, including referrals to other services.  The units offer two exam spaces, a restroom, a small waiting area, and a lift for those with mobility issues.

You can watch a video about the mobile clinics here.

Rural counties in our state face unique health care challenges not found in urban areas.  Residents in these areas are more likely to be older, have lower incomes and less likely to hold college degrees. Tennesseans in rural areas suffer from higher rates of chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, and prescription drug addictions, according to the Sycamore Institute in its Healthy Debate 2018 report.  On average, these counties have 10 medical doctors per county; Grainger, Hancock, Perry, and Lewis Counties each have fewer than four medical doctors (KidsCount, 2018); and eight rural hospitals in Tennessee have closed since 2010, further limiting access to care in these communities (The Sycamore Institute, 2018).

Now with $6.3 million in American Rescue Plan funding provided by Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is going to add two new mobile health clinics to the program.  Counties for expansion will be Crockett, Fayette, Hardeman, Haywood, and Lauderdale in West Tennessee, and Campbell, Fentress, Morgan, Scott, and Union in East Tennessee.  Providers to operate the new clinics will be announced soon, and services are expected to begin in December 2022.

“I’m so thankful you all are here.  We need these services so badly.” — Project Rural Recovery client

Learn more about Project Rural Recovery at this link:

Darren Layman serves as the Project Rural Recovery director for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.  Prior to joining Tennessee state government, Darren worked for University of Washington Medicine for 13 years, most recently as associate administrator for its primary care network.  The network provided more than 300,000 visits annually to residents of small rural, island communities to large urban centers.

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