Optum Idaho Donates $200,000 To Increase Mental Health Care Access Statewide

January 26, 2022 | 3 min Read
  • Grant will address workforce development crisis by supporting training in mental health and substance use disorder education for Idaho health care professionals

Optum Idaho, the managed care organization for the state of Idaho’s Medicaid behavioral health plan and part of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), has awarded $200,000 to the University of Idaho’s Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) aimed at increasing mental health care access statewide for adults, children and families.

The entire state of Idaho is designated as a mental health provider shortage area by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. With limited access to traditional mental health clinicians, patients often rely on primary care providers to receive mental and behavioral health services, particularly in rural areas. However, primary care providers often lack specialized knowledge and clinical confidence to effectively treat patients with chronic, severe mental illness.

“Optum Idaho is committed to addressing this mental health workforce crisis by partnering with ECHO Idaho to increase the capacity of the current primary care workforce,” said Optum Idaho Executive Director Georganne Benjamin. “While the need for behavioral health services has increased exponentially over the past two years due to the residual effects of the COVID pandemic, the already-stretched-thin capacity of Idaho’s mental health care workforce to treat patients has not grown to meet this demand.”

The donation will support ECHO Idaho’s ongoing efforts to develop behavioral health training materials; conduct a free, virtual mental health and substance use disorder series; engage with Optum Idaho professional clinicians to share mental health perspectives and expertise with Idaho’s primary care workforce; and ensure sustainability for ECHO Idaho to deliver behavioral health care training to medical professionals in rural communities.

“We’re grateful for the commitment of Optum Idaho to improve care for patients by inviting all medical and behavioral health perspectives to the conversation about mental health care access,” said Project ECHO Idaho Director Lachelle Smith. “Along with informing their practice, ECHO participants have a chance to connect with and be supported by a virtual community.”

“ECHO Idaho provides a unique evidence-based, multidisciplinary platform to connect with health care teams around the state that address and provide support for the increased behavioral health concerns that we are seeing,” said Dr. Christopher Streeter, medical director and pediatric psychiatrist at St. Luke’s Children’s Center for Neurobehavioral Medicine in Boise, who currently facilitates the Pediatric Autism series of ECHO Idaho trainings. “Through this learning community, we not only learn about new ways to approach treatment for our patients, but also learn what resources our peers have access to around the state.”

Optum Idaho has partnered with the state Division of Medicaid to operate the Idaho Behavioral Health Plan (IBHP) since 2013, and offers outpatient behavioral health treatment services for more than 373,000 Medicaid members through a network of more than 2,000 trained clinicians and providers across the state. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s managed care program will soon be expanded to include inpatient treatment and Institutions for Mental Diseases; substance use disorder/residential care; expanded Medicaid outpatient services; Assertive Community Treatment teams; crisis system services; and a variety of non-Medicaid services to help fill treatment gaps for Idahoans who are uninsured or underinsured.

The ECHO Idaho grant is part of several initiatives by Optum Idaho and its parent company, UnitedHealth Group, to address mental health access, outcomes and disparities in Idaho. These include a $100,000 matching grant from Optum Idaho to support the Idaho Youth Ranch Residential Center for Healing and Resilience, a new adolescent psychiatric residential treatment option for Idaho families on Medicaid, who currently must send their children out of state in search of inpatient care.

In addition, Optum Idaho recently contributed $100,000 to Idaho State University’s Meridian Sam and Aline Skaggs Health Science Center to provide tuition support for up to five licensed Optum network IBHP psychologists to complete a two-year Master of Science in Clinical Psychopharmacology (MSCP) training and supervision program for credentialing of prescription privileges. Optum Idaho also provided $50,000 in funding for a licensed physician who will provide supervision and support for IBHP enrollees while training in the MSCP program for two years.

Through 2021, Optum Idaho has underwritten the cost of training for more than 1,400 Idahoans in Mental Health First Aid, a CPR-style instruction that enables participants respond to real-life, mental health situations in their communities. And during 2021, Optum Idaho’s “Hello Idaho!” mental health awareness campaign designed to reduce isolation and encourage inclusion was viewed more than 51 million times statewide.

About Optum

Optum is a leading information and technology-enabled health services business dedicated to helping make the health system work better for everyone. With more than 210,000 people worldwide, Optum delivers intelligent, integrated solutions that help to modernize the health system and improve overall population health. Optum Idaho manages outpatient behavioral health benefits for Idaho Medicaid members. Optum is part of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH). For more information, visit

About ECHO Idaho

ECHO Idaho through the University of Idaho is part of Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), a revolution in medical education and care delivery, designed to increase the capacity of medical providers working in rural and underserved areas. Clinicians statewide join ECHO Idaho using video conferencing for one-hour sessions that include brief lectures, case reviews, resource sharing and discussion. For more information, visit Project ECHO through University of Idaho (