Mass General Brigham will invest $50 million in a new initiative focused on mental health, chronic disease management, and nutrition security, the hospital network announced last week.
MGB will partner with 20 organizations and universities across the Commonwealth for the initiative, per a press release on Oct. 28. The investment builds on the existing $175 million that the hospital system devotes annually to local health programs.
Elsie M. Taveras — the chief community health equity officer at MGB — said in an interview that part of the investment was dedicated to address the shortage of mental health providers and an overwhelming demand for psychological care exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Many of our patients are experiencing unacceptable delays in getting the treatment that they need, and we’re not alone,” Taveras said. “This is happening across the state, across the country.”
To help expand the behavioral health workforce, MGB has collaborated with eight universities in Massachusetts to establish fellowships and loan repayment programs for students entering the mental health practice. In partnership with the Massachusetts Association of Mental Health, MGB is supporting the development of pediatric urgent care services to address growing psychological needs among adolescents.
“The pandemic, as I mentioned earlier, has exacerbated the number of individuals — children and adults — that are needing pretty critical mental health support,” Taveras said. “Our emergency departments are overwhelmed to have children boarding because they can’t seek psychiatric care.”
MGB’s new investment will also aim to promote diversity within the emerging mental health workforce, according to MGB Vice President of Behavioral Health Joy B. Rosen.
“In addition to there being a shortage in the workforce, there is also the problem of needing to diversify our workforce substantially to be able to address people from all walks of life,” Rosen said in an interview. “We’ve been doing a fair amount of contracts with state schools because they have a more diverse population, quite frankly, than a lot of the private schools.”
MGB also dedicated $15 million from its investment to expand access to behavioral health and substance use disorder services at health centers serving people of color in Boston, according to an emailed statement from the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers.
This funding will support two of its initiatives: a workforce incentive program to attract and retain diverse behavioral health providers at health centers, along with novel substance use disorder programming designed in collaboration with individuals battling substance use.
Michael A. Curry, president and CEO of the League of Community Health Centers, praised MGB’s decision to prioritize allocating resources to under-resourced groups.
“We are extremely grateful to Mass General Brigham for this five-year funding commitment to expand mental health and substance use disorder services in communities of color,” he wrote. “Identifying and meeting this critical need is a great example of what happens when you use an equity lens.”
In addition to mental health, MGB also hopes to address the prevalence of chronic conditions such as heart disease and stroke among minority populations through the establishment of a mobile program providing hypertension screening and management services, Taveras said.
MGB is also working to establish teaching kitchens, enroll eligible patients for federal food security sources, and fund hunger-relief organizations, she added.
MGB is partnering with Community Servings, which provides nutritious meals for chronically and critically ill patients and families. The organization expects to serve “68,000 meals to more than 250 individuals” with critical and chronic illnesses in Blue Hills Avenue Corridor, Lynn, Lawrence, and Salem, according to CEO David B. Waters. The funding will also help bolster the development of their nutrition education program.
Dianne Kuzia Hills — executive director of My Brother’s Table, another partner organization that provides free meals in Lynn — said the pandemic and the fight for racial justice have opened many people’s eyes to health disparities and how they may stem from the allocation of healthcare resources.
“When you look at places like Lynn and Chelsea, that are just a stone’s throw away from the greatest health care in the world, I think people are like, ‘What the heck is going on?’” she said. “That really made a lot of people in healthcare, people in social policy work, people in social services all look around and say, ‘Why is there such a disparity?’”
About Fresh — which uses a team of trucks to sell fresh produce in neighborhoods across Boston — also received funding from MGB. Josh Trautwein, the organization’s co-founder and CEO, said he believes MGB has a continued responsibility to use its resources to improve local health.
“These funds will help us to meet the immediate needs of those struggling to access healthy food, prioritizing those at highest risk of chronic disease in Boston,” he wrote. “This support represents the power that healthcare institutions have to invest in systemic, proven solutions to food insecurity and improve long-term public health and wellbeing for all of our communities.”
—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Anjeli R. Macaranas can be reached at email@example.com.