By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON

cstephenson@dcherald.com

JASPER — The Dubois County Community Foundation was awarded a grant of $4.4 million through the Lilly Endowment Inc. Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow initiative. The grant will support efforts to bolster mental health and substance abuse resources in the county and surrounding area.

Mental health and substance abuse affects many families in the county in some way, said Clayton Boyles, the community foundation’s executive director.

“Mental health and substance abuse don't discriminate based on race, gender or socioeconomic status,” he said.

A crucial part of the recovery process for those struggling with substance abuse disorders is access to mental health services. In rural communities, recruiting mental health professionals is a continual challenge, said Jodi Richardson, co-chair of the Dubois County Public Health Partnership’s Mental Health Committee.

“We recognize there is a lack of mental health providers locally, statewide and now even nationally,” she said.

Dubois County is identified as a Health Professional Shortage Area, which is a federal designation that indicates a shortage of health and mental health care providers per capita. The community foundation discussed in its grant proposal how rural communities are unable to pay competitive wages and provide professional development opportunities that many urban areas offer.

In addition, many mental health professionals are working via telehealth now, Richardson said, which makes it harder to attract mental health providers to the area.

With the grant, recipients such as Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center and LifeSpring Health Systems will recruit and retain more mental health professionals.

But curbing substance abuse expands far beyond mental health services, Boyles said. It includes addressing children in school with prevention measures. It includes helping people who are already in the criminal justice system.

Megan Durlauf, director of the Dubois County Community Corrections Center, said many people in the work release and home detention program are battling substance abuse disorders and struggle to pay for treatment services outside of the program. With the grant's help, community corrections will expand on its treatment options and provide services with as few fees as possible.

Additionally, substance abuse treatment services include providing safe recovery homes and helping people get and retain employment. Despite the county’s strong local economy and low unemployment rate, employers are still facing a workforce shortage, the community foundation said in its grant proposal. This likely ties back, at least in part, to substance abuse disorders.

“We are trying to holistically address mental health and substance abuse,” Boyles said. “We’re not just looking at, ‘Okay, go get treatment.’”

The community foundation started research for the grant in 2018. But for about the past five years, the foundation has been communicating with other groups, from corrections facilities to health care providers to private businesses — all of whom agreed that mental health and substance abuse resources are underdeveloped in the community.

“This truly was a community effort,” said Nicole Lampert, communications and engagement manager for the community foundation.

The foundation will be awarded the full grant payout this year, and disbursements will start in 2021. Recipients include Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, LifeSpring Health Systems, Dubois County Community Corrections, Dubois County CARES and Next Step Recovery Home.