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RIT Program Expands Access to Treatment for Homeless in Upstate New York

October 23, 2019

Funded by a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Rochester Institute of Technology is making addiction treatment and mental health services more accessible to some of the most vulnerable populations in upstate New York.

RIT is training doctoral interns from across the country in its Priority Psychology Internship Program to work with clients at House of Mercy, a homeless shelter in Monroe County. The grant has allowed the RIT program to be one of the first in the region to include formal training in telehealth-based psychology for homeless individuals.

“The idea behind it is that the grant is going to help bring quality and evidence-based care into communities where there is a lack of expertise or a shortage of clinicians,” Caroline Easton, a professor in the RIT School of Behavioral Health Sciences and lead researcher on the grant, tells Addiction Professional.

“There is a shortage in Monroe County for psychologists, especially around the training of addiction. We’re leveraging knowing that and the mission of [HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration] to bring evidence-based care of addiction into this community to treat opioid disorders, other substance use disorders” and co-occurring mental health and medical issues.

Interns working in the program have earned doctoral degrees in clinical psychology and have been recruited from across the country. The program currently has seven training slots, but Easton says the goal is to double that number by July.

Easton says the program is providing treatment for 84 individuals who stay overnight at House of Mercy and hundreds more who visit the shelter during the day. Intakes and bi-weekly sessions are conducted in person, and additional services are provided weekly or even daily through telehealth solutions, which are set up in confidential rooms at the shelter, Easton says.

Starting with in-person sessions is important for building trust and forming an alliance with clients, as well as educating them on how to use the tablets and smart TVs with telehealth software for future visits, Easton says.

Benefits of the HHS grant extend to RIT’s clinical partners—Rochester Regional Health and Hillside Children’s Home, where interns are also stationed to provide addiction treatment, and Coordinated Care Services, Inc., where interns provide consulting services and program evaluation.

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