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Talk Business & Politics: Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield announces $5.9 million for youth behavioral health

Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas is donating more than $5.9 million to five Arkansas organizations to address child and adolescent mental health, suicide and substance abuse issues.

The foundation made the announcement Thursday (Oct. 5) at the Clinton Presidential Center.

Two of those donations will go to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. One, a $1,610,477 grant over four years, will go to UAMS’ Pathways to Wellness Program. It will fund two programs previously funded by the foundation. The grant will expand the Trauma Resource Initiative for Schools, which helps school personnel recognize and respond to trauma suffered by students. It also will expand services offered through AR ConnectNow, a youth and school-focused marketing campaign. The grant will create a virtual wellness welcome center offering mental health resources.

Another grant going to UAMS, this one totaling $714,809 over two years, will go to the Adolescent and Young Adult Addiction Treatment Program. It will help the program offer treatment and prevention programs for young people and engage parents during recovery.

A third grant for $850,927 over three years will go to the Wolfe Street Foundation to expand its substance abuse treatment efforts for Pulaski County young people in grades 7-12.

“Folks, there are no problem children. There are children that are facing problems that are too big for their under-resourced families to handle alone,” said Executive Director Justin Buck.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Arkansas Chapter will receive $900,000 over three years for its programs offered through public schools, higher education institutions and community groups. The grant will help it expand its statewide suicide education, loss support and research efforts. It hired a programs manager who started in the job three weeks ago.

Jacqueline Sharp, area director, said suicide is the third leading cause of death for Arkansans ages 10 to 24 and the 11th leading cause of death for all Arkansans.

She said when someone commits suicide, those closest to them are most impacted, but also so are members of their community and even people who didn’t know the deceased such as responders.

“Ultimately, in the way that a pond is changed because of a pebble, an entire community can be changed by a suicide,” she said.

Immerse Arkansas will receive $1,418,252 over three years to provide mental health resources for young people in Pulaski, Saline, Faulkner and Lonoke Counties. It serves 400 youth and young adults who are in foster care or are aging out of the system, are trafficking victims or face other challenges.

The funding will allow Immerse Arkansas to hire four additional trauma therapists and a recreational facilitator who can help young people engage in outdoors and other activities. It also will allow Immerse Arkansas to enhance and implement its therapist fellowship program, where experienced trauma therapists train new therapists.

The Foundation also announced it was providing funding for trauma-informed training at the Boys and Girls Club of America. That amount is $500,000 over four years.

Blue & You Foundation Executive Director Rebecca Pittillo said young people in Arkansas are exposed to a number of experiences that can produce trauma.

She said 9% have witnessed domestic violence; 16% have an incarcerated parent; and one in seven experience neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse in a given year. Untreated trauma can lead to behavioral health issues and substance use disorders. She said there are no practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists in 63 of the state’s 75 counties. Those who go untreated for trauma and substance abuse issues are more likely to attempt suicide.

This is the second round of behavioral health investments by the Blue & You Foundation. The first round of $5.29 million occurred in July 2021, but not all of the grants specifically targeted young people.

Those earlier grants were as follows:

– $1.5 million to the Arkansas Children’s Foundation to integrate the HealthySteps program in the state’s pediatric primary care facilities

– $1.95 million to expand the Trauma Resource Initiative for Schools and AR ConnectNow programs

– $1.745 million in licensed clinical social worker endowments at Arkansas State University, the University of Arkansas – Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas – Little Rock

– $105,000 to the Arkansas Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness to support its programs supporting individuals with mental health conditions

Combined, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Curtis Barnett said the two announcements “create the largest investment in our foundation’s history for a single health focus.”

“Behavioral health is as critical to a person’s health, well-being and ability to thrive as any physical health concern,” he said. “It is part of what we call our whole-person health approach to care, our mission to address all the elements that influence health and wellness for Arkansans.”

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