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WESTFIELD — Westfield State University’s Department of Social Work has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for the Integrative Behavioral Health (IBH) Equity Project.

The project builds a specialized workforce within rural, medically underserved areas as well as among diverse and historically marginalized populations to address the barriers identified by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the social determinants of health.

This HRSA award will be distributed over the next four years and will train 92 Westfield State graduate students in the Master of Social Work (MSW) program in the following integrative behavioral health specialties: Child, Youth, and Family; Health Social Work; Substance Use and Addictions; and Latinx Community Health. These students will receive $920,000 in training stipends over the next four years.

“The pandemic has highlighted how racial and economic disparities impact health outcomes. Social workers have an important role in addressing the social determinants of health, and these must be addressed to achieve health justice,” said Nora Padykula, Ph.D., professor and chair of the University’s Department of Social Work and principal investigator of the grant. “Westfield State students while training in these specialty areas work directly with our community partners to increase access to healthcare among vulnerable populations.”

Westfield State President Linda Thompson, DrPH — whose background is in nursing, health sciences, and public policy — noted that the IBH project continues the University’s growth in building important healthcare programs that meet the needs of the Commonwealth.

“Westfield State University is honored to receive this award from the federal government in recognition of the important research and training conducted and performed by our Department of Social Work faculty and students,” said Thompson. “As the majority of our graduate students go on to live and work in Massachusetts, they will support the Commonwealth’s growing need for social workers, as the number of these professionals with crisis-level caseloads is on the rise. Students in this program will help bridge that gap as they enter the workforce.”

The Field Education Team in Westfield State’s Department of Social Work established IBH/Integrated Primary Care and inter-professional training partnerships across western and central Massachusetts to train students to gain proficiency as they provide in-person and telehealth services to children, youth, and families as well as individuals living with addiction and mental health issues. It is broadening to include organizations that serve the Spanish-speaking Latinx population.

The IBH Equity Project will also increase linguistic and cultural access to social work education by offering classes in Spanish to impact the structural health inequities that affect students and clients throughout the Pioneer Valley. Westfield State is the first institution in the area to offer social work courses in Spanish.

The project advances the university’s progress toward an institutional goal of gaining the federal Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) designation. Achieving the designation is part of a larger commitment by Westfield State to address systemic racism and inequities on the campus, such as in its policies and practices, according to Enrique Morales-Diaz, Ph.D., interim dean of the faculty and chair of the University’s new Racial Equity and Justice Institute Team.