Minnesota State Mankato to Establish Center for Rural Behavioral Health

March 03, 2022 |

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Mankato, Minn. – Minnesota State University, Mankato’s College of Allied Health and Nursing will establish a Center for Rural Behavioral Health in the fall to improve access to behavioral health care for residents in outstate Minnesota, to include residents of recognized reservations.

A 2021 Minnesota Department of Health workforce report (see page 20) shows that 80 percent of Minnesota counties qualify as mental health professional shortage areas.

Minnesota State Mankato’s Center for Rural Behavioral Health will address that shortage, said Minnesota State Mankato President Edward Inch.

“By establishing the Center for Rural Behavioral Health, the University will be helping to address the shortage of mental health care in outstate Minnesota,” said Inch. “The Center will work with community partners on research while seeking state and federal funding to grow a culturally representative behavioral health care workforce in rural Minnesota.”

Thad Shunkwiler head shotThe founding director of the Center for Rural Behavioral Health is Thad Shunkwiler (pictured at right), a Minnesota State Mankato professor of health science.

“The data is clear,” said Shunkwiler. “There is a worsening problem within accessing behavioral health care in rural Minnesota. The goal of the center is to start addressing this issue with real-world solutions.

“While the conversations around mental health are important and needed, what’s often left out of these stories is who will provide the mental health care in rural areas. Residents in rural communities with shortages of mental health professionals may have to travel great distance to receive care and wait extended periods for care. In some counties, residents are lucky to have anyone provide care at all.”

Shunkwiler said COVID-19 has exacerbated behavioral health challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Shunkwiler said, the United States in 2021 suffered more than 100,000 drug overdoses, a record.

Shunkwiler said the center will achieve its mission through research, workforce development and continuing education, such as providing licensure board required trainings in outstate Minnesota.

Kris Retherford, dean of Minnesota State Mankato’s College of Allied Health and Nursing, said the Center for Rural Behavioral Health will provide collaborative opportunities focused on behavioral health across the University and in the community.

“A focus of the center will be scholarly activities that are multidisciplinary in nature and aim to improve the quality and access to resources in outstate Minnesota,” said Retherford. “I also hope the findings and partnerships result in increased awareness about this important topic.”

Minnesota State Mankato currently offers five academic programs that prepare behavioral health professionals across three colleges, and faculty and students in those programs will be able to collaborate on scholarly and clinical work and curriculum through the center.

University programs that prepare behavioral health care professionals include programs in alcohol and drug studies, nursing and social work (all in the College of Allied Health and Nursing); counseling and student personnel (College of Education); and the school psychology doctoral program (College of Social and Behavioral Sciences).

For more information about the Center for Rural Behavioral Health, please contact Thad Shunkwiler by email at thad.shunkwiler@mnsu.edu or by phone at 507-389-1397.

Minnesota State Mankato, a comprehensive university with 14,546 students, is part of the Minnesota State system, which includes 30 colleges and seven universities.