Community of Practice Thought-Leadership Group: Community Mental Health Centers

The STARR Coalition, in partnership with FCD, is establishing a Community of Practice thought-leadership group to bring Community Mental Health Center leaders together with the goal of building a pathway to mental health care equity for underserved patient populations and address some of the challenges specific to CMHCs by including research as an option.

Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) are essential for improving access to mental health services particularly in underserved areas where access to mental health services are limited. They support vulnerable populations and provide community-based care, and play a critical role in addressing the mental health needs of individuals and communities and improving overall health outcomes.

However, CMHCs face a number of challenges in providing quality mental health services to their communities. Some of these challenges include:

  • Funding: CMHCs often struggle with limited funding and resources, which can impact the range and quality of services they are able to offer.
  • Workforce shortages: Many CMHCs struggle to recruit and retain qualified mental health professionals, leading to understaffing and increased workloads.
  • Access barriers: Geographic and transportation barriers can make it difficult for individuals to access CMHCs, particularly in rural areas or low-income communities.
  • Limited insurance coverage: Many insurance plans do not cover mental health services at the same level as physical health services, creating financial barriers for individuals seeking care at CMHCs.

One way to see immediate change is by including research as an option in the CMHC continuum of care.

That’s why we are establishing this Community of Practice (CoP) thought-leadership group.

Addressing these challenges will require a multifaceted approach that includes increased funding and resources for CMHCs, improving workforce development and retention, addressing access barriers, and expanding insurance coverage for mental health services. Many of these challenges can be addressed through collaborations with pharmaceutical research organizations.

What exactly is a Community of Practice?

A Community of Practice, or CoP, is a group of individuals who share a common interest or profession and come together to learn, share knowledge, and collaborate. The key defining feature of a community of practice is the shared commitment to developing and improving the knowledge and skills within the community, with members taking an active role in helping each other learn and grow.

CoPs can be effective tools in maintaining a culture of learning and growth within a health center, if they meet the needs of the members and help overcome the commonly shared challenges particular to the group, in this case, Community Mental Health Centers.

Why should I be interested in this CoP?

While CMHCs play an essential role in providing mental health care to vulnerable populations, they face several challenges, including funding and resource constraints, staffing shortages, stigma, limited access, integration with primary care, and limited resources for specialized services.

The objective of this CoP is to address these challenges and ensuring that CMHCs can continue to provide high-quality care to their patients.

How will this CoP help the patients at my CMHC?

One way to ensure that CMHC patients have the same access to cutting edge medications and scale-supported diagnostic clarification, and overall improved treatment equity without significantly raising the cost of care is by including pharmaceutical clinical research as a treatment option for CMHC patients.

Ensuring treatment equity such that CMHC patients have the same access to cutting edge treatments as others, including medications not yet available through Medicaid and/or brand new treatments that have shown efficacy in trials, but are not yet FDA-approved.

Isn't research putting my patients at risk?

Mental health clinical research is conducted with rigorous and careful oversight, with strict regulations and guidelines that researchers must follow to protect the welfare of participants. There are multiple levels of review by regulatory agencies, ethics committees, and researchers, working to ensure that the rights and welfare of research participants are protected, and that any risks associated with the study are minimized as much as possible.

Okay... give me a bullet-point list of the benefits of research.

The benefits of including research as part of the continuum of care provided by community mental health centers include:

Enhanced diagnostic clarification through scientific scale-supported analysis.

By including research as an option for patients in underserved and disadvantaged communities, healthcare providers can address logistical barriers to care such as lack of transportation or undue financial burden of treatment visits.

Research conducted in collaboration with CMHC practitioners can help to identify the unique health needs and challenges of underserved populations. This information can be used to develop and implement effective interventions that improve health outcomes in these communities.

Overall improved treatment equity without significantly raising the cost of care.

So, how will this CoP work?

We will establish an active learning community connecting CMHCs and industry partners at national and regional levels. The philosophy, message and presentation of the CoP will be guided by a steering team consisting of experienced staff within the member organizations and one or two external advisors to help coordinate the CoP activities.

Members of a CoP typically interact with each other both online and offline, engaging in activities such as discussion forums, collaborative projects, and knowledge sharing.

What if I don’t need your help with that?

Great – we need experienced people like you to join us in helping others build successful programs within their communities. Share your experience of the benefits of incorporating research and ideas on how to go about educating CMHC leadership, staff, patients, and communities on the benefits of working with some of the companies investigating new treatments.

We need you in the CoP.

Tell me more about the process for establishing an effective CoP.

Our approach will be delivered through three main phases: 1. Inception, 2. Design and 3. Development, Implementation.

To ensure the delivery of all activities, the project has been divided into three modules, each of which has key deliverables assigned to it:

Module 1: Website and infrastructure for the CoP;
Module 2: Needs assessment and development of the CoP;
Module 3: Strengthen (research capacity) at CMHCs.

How is this CoP going to have any real impact on CMHCs when nothing has changed despite enormous efforts over the last 25 years?

It’s true: despite years of effort, the disparity between the challenges CMHCs face and those of other health centers is vast; the stigma around mental illness persists and CMHC funding reflects that.

That’s precisely why we’re doing this.

There is something CMHCs can do NOW to start overcoming some of the challenges they face — something all other disease indications take for granted. Cancer patients are given the option to enroll in cancer research to access the most cutting-edge treatments. People with MS or ALS are given the option to join a research study. The only thing preventing mental health practitioners from benefiting from research is stigma.

It’s ironic that CMHCs are challenged by stigma, yet stigmatize one of the most effective means for overcoming those challenges.

What are the costs of participating in this CoP in time and money?

Need to set expectations of time commitment and any potential costs associated with this CoP…

Who are the sponsors of this CoP?

(Info on STARR and FCD) — what are our creds for this?

Notes:  Need to create a STARR MHR-CoP advisory board for this program with the three of us and maybe a few others?

Erica, Jeremy, Jim (CMO, FCD) maybe 1, max 2 adds in a month or so, ideally someone from an underrepresented group, we need to show we are walking the walk — eventually we’ll need a patient rep & industry rep, experienced researchers, clinicians, murses, RA but first, a tight group we can work with to write up our proposal, agree a budget and go for funding

I'd like to see examples of other CoPs you've built.


 Advisory Board Process Implementation Outcomes


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A Community of Practice (CoP)
can help create a culture of learning and collaboration that supports ongoing professional development, innovation, and the provision of high-quality care to patients. In this case, the CoP would include outside researchers, so that members can learn from one another and stay up-to-date with the latest research and information on mental health treatments.

If you are interested in joining our CoP, please fill out the form below or contact us at