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$1.87 Million Federal Grant to SLU Family Medicine Bolsters Behavioral Health Training

Saint Louis University has received a $1.87 million grant to strengthen behavioral health training for family physicians, who often are the primary physician seen by many adults and children, and for medical family therapists who practice alongside them.

Christine Jacobs, M.D. and Jay Brieler, M.D.

Christine Jacobs, M.D., is the program director of the SLU Family Medicine Residency at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital and a professor in family and community medicine at Saint Louis University. Jay Brieler, M.D., is a SLUCare family physician and an associate professor in family and community medicine.

The five-year Primary Care Training and Enhancement Award from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will train family medicine residents and medical family therapy doctoral students in a Family Medicine Behavioral Health Collaborative Curriculum.

“There is a lot less stigma about coming to see your primary care physician,” said principal investigator Christine Jacobs, M.D. “We have a chance to start to address the mental health needs of our patients.”

The program will place faculty and students from SLU’s medical family therapy program along with family medicine residents at Family Care Health Centers and SSM Heath St. Mary’s Hospital, allowing medical providers to offer extended services in the outpatient and inpatient setting immediately when they identify a patient that could benefit from behavioral therapeutic interventions.

The SLU Family Medicine Residency at Family Care Health Center at Carondelet opened in 2011. The residents provide medical care as part of their three-year training in Family Medicine. 

Jacobs is the program director of the SLU Family Medicine Residency at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital and a professor in family and community medicine at Saint Louis University.

“Many people use their primary care doctor as a first-line mental health provider,” said Jacobs. “This will strengthen training of family physicians and medical family therapists in integrated behavioral health.”

There is a lot less stigma about coming to see your primary care physician. We have a chance to start to address the mental health needs of our patients.”

Christine Jacobs, M.D. 

Training of family medicine residents and medical family therapy students will ramp up on Jan. 1, 2017, Jacobs said, and will be held at SLU, as well as at Family Care and St. Mary’s Hospital.

“The family physicians in this setting are much more comfortable because of our behavioral health colleagues,” Jacobs said. “We work together to support the patient. We are opening doors rather than closing them.”

Medical students and residents are increasingly aware of the power of behavioral modification to improve overall health.

“They are asking for more education to help them help patients with diet, smoking, depression and other issues,” Jacobs said.

The grant will fund enhanced training for family medicine residents and medical family therapy students, who will train together and learn from each other, with preceptors for both specialties.

“We have a great amount of expertise within our faculty in working with an underserved population,” Jacobs said. “And we will collaborate with community resources like Alive and Well to assist us with trauma training. At the Family Care Health Centers we see traumas that reach our patients at every level.”

Those traumas may include toxic living conditions, adult incarcerations and abject poverty, Jacobs said.

In the second year of the grant, full-day sessions in trauma-informed care, cognitive therapy, addictions and psychopharmacology are planned.

“We are family focused – we see patients ranging in age from 3 months to elderly,” Jacobs said. “Our physicians really have a chance to make a positive impact on mental health and improve outcomes for the whole family.”