Improving the Use of Behavioral Health Metrics is the Goal of New National Program

Posted: March 3, 2014

Grappling with behavioral health problems, especially substance abuse and mental health issues, is a continual struggle for many communities across the country. A new national program has been developed to provide resources for local decision makers to get a better understanding of the behavioral health concerns in their regions.
The CAPE collaboration team includes, from left: Stephan Goetz, Don Albrecht, Scott Loveridge, Rachel Welborn, Dee Owens, and Brent Elrod. See text for complete caption.

The CAPE collaboration team includes, from left: Stephan Goetz, Don Albrecht, Scott Loveridge, Rachel Welborn, Dee Owens, and Brent Elrod. See text for complete caption.

The program, called Community Assessment and Education to Promote Behavioral Health Planning & Education (CAPE), is led by Michigan State University Professor Scott Loveridge and involves the collaboration of the nation’s four Regional Rural Development Centers.

"The incidence of behavioral health issues varies widely from place to place," said Stephan Goetz, Penn State professor of agricultural and regional economics and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development. "Local leaders need access to accurate data about the occurrence of these issues in their communities, so that they can be well-equipped to address them."

With funding from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and facilitated by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA/NIFA), CAPE’s goal is to look at ways in which local health decision makers are currently gaining information on the behavioral health practices in their communities and how access to needed information can be increased.

CAPE involves the collaboration of many partners. Brent Elrod, national program leader for community and rural development for USDA/NIFA, helped launch the program at the federal level by establishing an interagency agreement with SAMHSA and then with the Regional Rural Development Centers.

“SAMHSA’s investment brings the expertise of the Regional Rural Development Centers, our land-grant university partners, and the Cooperative Extension system to the ongoing effort to improve behavioral health outcomes in communities across America,” said Elrod. “Helping decision makers understand where to find the relevant data that is also specific to their locale will promote more effective behavioral health policies and programs.” 

Dee Owens heads up SAMHSA’s Community Early Warning and Monitoring System (C-EMS). She is thrilled with the strong partnership aspect of the CAPE project, which will enhance the C-EMS goal of quickly getting behavioral health data into the hands of community health decision makers. “If we can work together in this project to get those measures, and get them into a tool-kit 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 they’re most needed.”

The project taps into land-grant university resources across the country and in ten pilot communities. Goetz is particularly pleased that three Northeast communities, in the states of Vermont, Maryland, and West Virginia, have been selected for inclusion in the project. As a result of the project, the CAPE team will have an understanding of how local leaders are getting their community behavioral health information; local leaders, in turn, will have a tool-kit of valuable data sources and training programs to inform their decision making.

“Local leaders make very rational decisions based on the information that comes to them about their own program areas,” said Loveridge. “With this project, we hope to engage groups of them in holistic decision-making that not only impacts their own areas but makes connections to upstream and downstream consequences as well.”

For more information about the community behavioral health benchmarking initiative, visit: or follow the project on Twitter @healthbench.


In the photo above, pictured from left, are:

  • Stephan Goetz, Director, Northeast Regional Rural Development Center
  • Don Albrecht, Director, Western Rural Development Center
  • Scott Loveridge, Director, North Central Regional Center for Rural Development
  • Rachel Welborn, Program Manager, Southern Rural Development Center
  • Dee Owens, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  • Brent Elrod, National Program Leader for Community and Rural Development, USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture