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RIT expands addiction treatment to rural communities

Messenger Post Media
Monroe County Post

RIT’s Behavioral Health program is expanding with a clinic on campus and federal funding to deliver addiction treatment in rural communities in upstate New York and New Hampshire.

These partnerships and services create momentum for the Priority Behavioral Health and clinical psychology internship led by Caroline Easton, professor of biomedical sciences. 

The program was funded in 2018 by the U.S. Department of the Health and Humans Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration to fill a shortage of mental health professionals, especially with addiction expertise, in the Rochester area.

The RIT Priority Behavioral Health clinic gives therapy interns experience conducting in-person and telehealth sessions and assessment services under the supervision of licensed clinical psychologists. The training clinic is open to anyone at RIT and in the wider community, and services are free. The clinicians practice cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy and mindfulness skills, as well as behavioral health screenings and consultations, psychological testing, digital therapies and tele-behavioral health.

Easton sees the clinic as a resource for the community, especially for people who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and who may not have health insurance or money for co-pays. 

“The clinic is not only for people struggling with addiction, anxiety and depression,” she said. “Right now, people are dealing with grief and loss, social isolation and health anxiety. We will take clients who just need somebody to talk to.”

RIT behavioral health researchers in the biomedical sciences program — Easton, associate professor Cory Crane and visiting assistant professor Cassandra Berbary — won additional funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration to deliver mental health and addiction treatment to underserved populations.

The federal agency is supporting a $1.4 million telehealth program for homeless residents at the House of Mercy shelter, which was deployed during the state shutdown, and more recently a $1 million telehealth outreach for rural and underserved communities in New York and in New Hampshire addressing opioid addiction and other forms of substance abuse. 

The participating clinical sites were selected through RIT’s strategic alliance with Rochester Regional Health and a new partnership with Ammonoosuc Community Health Services in New Hampshire, facilitated by CEO and RIT alumnus Ed Shanshala II.

“Our telehealth training program is especially relevant during the pandemic and the new risk factors it has created for rural residents with addiction issues and for their families,” Easton said. “The pandemic has led to unemployment, loss of health insurance, opioid/substance relapse, anxiety and depression, grief and personal loss.”

The Priority Behavioral Health clinic is located in the Clinical Health Sciences Building, 153 Lomb Memorial Drive, at the north end of campus. For appointments, call 585-475-4748.

Stock photo.