AgCenter joins mental health, substance abuse project

Johnny Morgan, Guarino, Annrose M.

News Release Distributed 04/01/14

NEW ORLEANS – The LSU AgCenter in partnership with the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University will work with local stakeholders to identify behavioral health needs of Orleans Parish residents and share best practices for improving community behavioral health.

Annrose Guarino , LSU AgCenter urban health specialist, is leading the Orleans Parish team that was recently invited to join a new national project called Community Assessment and Education to Promote Behavioral Health Planning & Education.

Guarino said the organization was developed to help local decision-makers understand the behavioral health concerns in their region.

“Mental health, substance abuse and other behavioral health issues are significant public health concerns for Orleans Parish,” said Guarino. “On average, residents of the parish report having four poor mental health days each month."

Behavioral health problems prevent children, adults and families from reaching their full potential and leading productive lives, Guarino said.

Since behavioral health problems are ongoing struggles for communities, it is important for local leaders to have access to accurate data about behavioral health and resources available in their communities, she said.

“There are quite different ways how this plays out at the local level,” said Scott Loveridge, director of CAPE National Initiative from Michigan State University. “So we need to do a better job helping decision-makers figure out what’s going on in their communities and do some early warning.”

Funding is provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and facilitated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Guarino said.

This project will explore how local health decision makers gain information on behavioral health practices in Orleans Parish and nine other communities and how they obtain information for coordinated local efforts, she said.

The project is tapping into land-grant university resources across the country with Cooperative Extension Service partners from Kansas State University, University of Maryland, University of Missouri, University of Nevada, New Mexico State University, University of Tennessee, University of Vermont, Virginia Tech University, Virginia State University and West Virginia University.

The project’s findings will be compiled into a behavioral health toolkit that will be disseminated to local decision-makers.

Brent Elrod, national program leader for community and rural development at USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, helped launch the program at the federal level.

“This is truly a collaborative effort,” Elrod said, as federal, state and local partners are involved in the project.

The goal of the project is to help decision-makers understand where to find relevant data specific to their locale and promote more effective behavioral health policies and programs, Elrod said.

Dee Owens, head of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services Community Early Warning and Monitoring System, sees the collaboration as positive for the neediest residents.

“If we can work together in this project to get those measures and get them into a toolkit where they’re sensible and can be used, then at the community level you will be able to find out what’s going on and be able to target scarce resources where most needed,” Owens said.

For more information about the initiative, contact Guarino at 985-785-4473, visit the website at or follow the project on Twitter @healthbench.

Johnny Morgan

4/1/2014 7:59:47 PM
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