Social work program awarded $1.1 million grant

Western Carolina University’s social work program is the recipient of a federal grant of more than $1.1 million to expand the number of social workers qualified to practice in the areas of substance abuse prevention and behavioral health in Cherokee and other underserved areas of Western North Carolina.

The grant, totaling $1,177,354 and to be awarded to WCU over a three-year period, is from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Working in collaboration with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and the Center for Native Health, the university will receive $321,764 in the initiative’s first year, $420,902 in its second year and $424,688 in the third year.

The grant will provide up to $10,000 in individual stipends to students in WCU’s master’s degree program in social work who plan to serve the behavioral health needs of the people of WNC. It is designed to produce social workers with the skills to prevent and intervene in the high-risk behaviors of youth by using a family-focused health care model that is sensitive to the culture and needs of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and other youth populations across the rural Southern Appalachians, said Pat Morse, head of the social work department and director of WCU’s graduate program in social work.

“It is a pleasure and honor to collaborate with the Center for Native Health, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the behavioral health services agencies across Western North Carolina on this important project,” said Morse.

Douglas Keskula, dean of WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences, said the grant will fund an innovative project that will contribute to promoting, supporting and sustaining a much-needed behavioral health workforce in Cherokee and across the mountain region.

“This will be an exciting project for the university and for the region we serve,” Keskula said. “This initiative will provide critical behavioral health services to a medically underserved region while providing an exceptional educational experience for our students. This is a tremendous opportunity for collaboration between WCU, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and regional providers with the shared goal of building and training the behavioral health workforce of the future.”

The funding marks the 13th grant awarded by federal or regional agencies for research conducted by faculty in WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences to date since the 2012 fiscal year, with nearly $6 million in grants for projects ranging from improving diversity in the region’s nursing workforce to health care assessment for older adults.