ELC Attendees Urge Members of Congress to Increase Support for the GPE Program

At the 2012 Education Leadership Conference (ELC), nearly 100 APA members attended advocacy sessions that increased their knowledge of the federal legislative process, enhanced their advocacy skills and explained the critical importance of gaining Congressional funding for the Graduate Psychology Education program (GPE) — the only federal program solely dedicated to psychology education and training.

Graduate Psychology Education Program

The advocacy program sessions began on the Sunday afternoon of ELC with Nina Levitt, EdD, associate executive director for the APA Education Government Relations Office (GRO), providing an overview of the GPE Program, including past and current issues related to its funding. She also discussed APA’s yearlong efforts to protect a modest increase in funding for the program to restore it to its $4.5 million FY 2005 level. 

Levitt explained that Education GRO has recently focused on strengthening funding for the GPE Program in order to place psychology trainees in community health centers (CHCs) and address the needs of veterans and their families. In addition, GPE provides behavioral health services to unemployed people and older adults, as well as children, chronically ill people and victims of abuse and trauma in underserved rural and urban areas.

She emphasized that programs of importance to psychology, such as GPE, need psychologists championing their cause on Capitol Hill. “Otherwise, in these difficult economic times, these programs are in imminent danger of being cut or eliminated by a cash-strapped Congress,” she said.

Furthermore, Levitt underscored that advocating for a particular issue benefits all psychologists by educating members of Congress and their staff about the contributions psychologists make to health care.

Advocacy Skills Training

Advocacy training continued the next day with Education GRO staff presenting an early morning session titled “Advocacy for Novices,” to more than 30 new and returning participants looking to brush up on their advocacy skills. Using a combination of informative presentations and interactive exercises, Nina Levitt and Sheila Forsyth, APA Education GRO grassroots consultant, explained the basics of the federal legislative and appropriations processes.

Topics included why Americans have a right and obligation to advocate, and why it is especially important for psychologists to be actively involved in grassroots outreach and advocacy activities. This mini-workshop further allowed participants to engage in a spirited discussion of advocacy “do’s and don’ts,” how to be an effective and successful advocate, and a chance to sharpen their communication skills in preparation for their Capitol Hill visits.

2012 Education Advocacy Awards Luncheon

Monday’s sessions also included the annual Education Advocacy Awards Luncheon, which recognizes psychologists and other individuals who are advancing psychology education and training through their advocacy activities and support.

This year, Board of Educational Affairs Chair Michael Roberts, PhD, ABPP, and 2012 APA President Suzanne Bennett Johnson, PhD, ABPP, presented three individuals with awards for their outstanding efforts.

  • 2012 Education Advocacy APA Member-at-Large Distinguished Service Award: Presented to Ronald Rozensky, PhD, for his longstanding personal and professional commitment to advancing psychology education and training. As chairman of the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Advisory Committee on Interdisciplinary Education, Rozensky gained unprecedented support for integrative health services from the other HRSA advisory committees: medicine and dentistry, nursing and the Council on Graduate Medical Education.

  • 2012 Education Advocacy Grassroots Distinguished Service Award: Presented to Patricia Cole, PhD, and Linda Forrest, PhD. Cole was honored for her extensive grassroots recruiting activities and tireless efforts to raise awareness of the need for increasing psychological services to underserved populations and communities. Forrest was recognized for her extraordinary grassroots leadership and determined efforts to raise awareness of the critical need for increasing psychological services on our nation’s college campuses.

Placing GPE Trainees at Community Health Centers

Following lunch, ELC participants attended a panel presentation titled Promoting Quality: GPE Trainees at a Community Health Center.” Facilitated by Levitt, three panelists spoke about the impact that their GPE grant is having on community health centers.

Currently, there are more than 8,000 CHCs nationwide, funded at $2.2 billion and slated to receive federal funding of $11 billion over the next several years. However, there are only 400 psychologists employed in CHCs. Placing GPE trainees in CHCs will illustrate the critical role that psychologists can play in an integrated health care setting, increase the number of internship, externship and residency opportunities, and give psychology trainees experience in primary care.

  • Ana Bridges, PhD, GPE program director at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, spoke about the remarkable impact that the GPE Program has had in treating a wide range of patients. She explained her GPE grant has allowed her to partner with the Community Clinic at St. Francis House, which operates in seven locations and serves over 25,000 patients, many of them Latino and Marshallese. Bridges further noted that a single GPE trainee can see 350 patients a year. Moreover, an evaluation of her GPE program has shown that patients are getting 75 percent of the total therapeutic effect of 20 treatment visits in a remarkable 1.5 visits.

  • Debbie Gomez, MA, shared her personal experience of serving as a GPE trainee at the St. Francis House CHC over the past year. She told the conference attendees about a particularly important case of a patient suffering from a panic disorder who frequently visited the emergency room. Gomez noted, by treating the patient’s behavioral health issues within the integrated health care team, she was able to prevent further ER visits, and the patient learned how to cope with the disorder.

Kathy Grisham, executive director of the Community Clinic at St. Francis House, began the partnership with the University of Arkansas three years ago to create an Integrated Behavioral Health program in a primary-care setting. She told ELC conferees that using an integrated team approach produced the best clinical outcome in the most cost-effective manner and that the GPE psychology trainees resulted in measurable positive outcomes addressing mental and behavioral health issues and reducing health care costs. In fact, Grisham finds the inclusion of psychologists so invaluable that she has participated in congressional visits to advocate for the GPE Program and the inclusion of psychologists at all CHCs nationwide.

Monday afternoon wrapped up with a substantive review of the GPE Program’s current status, including a review of the $4.5 million FY 2013 funding request for participants to ask of their senators and representatives. Jenny Smulson, Education GRO senior legislative & federal affairs officer, also explained what ELC participants could expect on a visit to Capitol Hill and talked about the current political climate, including the looming possibility of sequestration. The afternoon ended on a high note with a surge of collective energy as Christopher Kush, President of Soapbox Consulting, lead participants in a lively round-robin roleplaying exercise to practice advocacy skills before their Tuesday meetings on Capitol Hill.

Making a Difference for Psychology

With great excitement and a bit of apprehension, on Tuesday morning nearly 100 energized APA members went in groups to Capitol Hill to make their case for restoring funding to the GPE program at $4.5 million, its FY 2005 level. These psychology advocates held an impressive 175 meetings, representing 36 states. A number of participants met directly with their members of Congress. For example, Loretta McGregor, PhD, met with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., a member of the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, which funds GPE. McGregor noted: “This was the first opportunity to directly educate the senator about the Graduate Psychology Education Program and urge his support. He was an engaged listener and left expressing strong support!”

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