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School of Education helps lead $16 million project to create services model for children

The project aims to integrate services that Medicaid- and CHIP-insured children in Alamance, Orange, Durham, Granville and Vance counties receive from different agencies and providers.

The exterior of Peabody Hall.
Exterior view of Peabody Hall, home of the UNC School of Education, on January 30, 2019, on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

A federal funding award of up to $16 million to Duke University, in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, will help establish an innovative approach to providing health and wellness services to children in five N.C. counties.

The model, called North Carolina Integrated Care for Kids, was one of eight nationally to be awarded funding from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The initiative aims to integrate a variety of services that children receive from different agencies and providers, including those for physical and behavioral health, housing, food, early care and education, child welfare, mobile crisis response services and juvenile justice and safety.

“As the lead organizations at UNC, Duke, and NC DHHS work in collaboration, we are excited to join with many other state and local entities to make this approach a success, and really improve the lives of children by better addressing all of the factors that impact their health,” said Dr. Mike Steiner, Michael F. Durfee Distinguished Professor, pediatrician in chief of UNC Children’s and the medical director of NC InCK.

“The NC Integrated Care for Kids model is a tremendous opportunity for us to transform how we support the well-being of children and their families by breaking down siloes and working together across the many systems, including health care, schools, child welfare and early child care settings,” said Dr. Charlene Wong, executive director of the new initiative and an adolescent medicine pediatrician at Duke.

The initiative’s leaders hope improved integration of services will address some of the root causes of poor health, reduce avoidable out-of-home placements, prevent hospitalizations for children, and create innovative and sustainable pediatric alternative payment models under the state’s Medicaid program.

The model will serve Medicaid- and CHIP-insured children from birth to age 21 in Alamance, Orange, Durham, Granville and Vance counties, which includes an estimated 80,000 eligible children. The CMS funding allocation begins Jan. 1, 2020 and covers two years for planning and program infrastructure development, followed by five years of implementation beginning in 2022.

“The UNC Health Care System is excited to partner with InCK collaborators and community partners to improve the lives of North Carolina’s children and families,” said Mark Gwynne, president and executive director of UNC Health Alliance and associate professor of family medicine in the UNC School of Medicine. “Our state is an emerging leader in value-based health care and UNC is committed to improving the health of North Carolinians while making health care more affordable. Bringing InCK to our state will help UNC Health Alliance catalyze this transformation.”

“Children’s health and wellbeing are shaped by so much more than visits to the doctor,” said Dr. Mandy K. Cohen, secretary of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. “Do they have enough food to eat? Do they have safe housing? Do they have nurturing caregivers? This model builds on our commitment to caring for the whole person and will help us achieve the bold goals set in our state’s early childhood action plan.”

UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education researchers are also involved in the project, recognizing that schools and families play vital roles in addressing poor health outcomes among children.

“Our child health care system has a difficult time identifying and addressing risk factors for children,” said Matthew Springer, Robena and Walter E. Hussman, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Education Reform and a co-principal investigator of the project. “Schools are uniquely positioned to provide systematic supports for students, along with connecting health and learning which can play a pivotal role not only in promoting healthy behaviors, but also in improving student learning outcomes.”

Springer will serve on the NC InCK Partnership Council – the governing body for the program – which will also include representation from families, youth and Medicaid payers as well as service providers in health care as well as other core areas. Marisa Marraccini, assistant professor in the School of Education’s school psychology program, will work with Springer, lending her expertise on mental health and well-being of students and preventing health risk behaviors.

The project described is supported by Funding Opportunity Number CMS 2B2-20-001 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The contents provided are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of HHS or any of its agencies.