Adopting Trauma-Informed Care in Rural Areas: Lessons from a Community Behavioral Health Partnership in Pennsylvania

January 2024

Childhood exposure to trauma, including abuse, neglect, and violence, is linked to a myriad of chronic physical and behavioral health conditions later in life, including substance use disorder, depression, heart disease, and cancer. Adopting trauma-informed care, an evidence-based, person-centered approach to care, can help avoid re-traumatization, increase patient engagement, and reduce unnecessary health care utilization for people with trauma histories. Rural locations, however, pose unique barriers to effectively implementing trauma-informed care, which requires system-wide program and policy changes at the organizational and clinical levels. Challenges to implementing trauma-informed care in rural communities include capacity and access issues related to long-standing workforce shortages, long travel distances, among other hurdles.  

In rural Pennsylvania, a multi-county collaboration recognized these challenges and formed a trauma-informed care initiative in 2014 to better serve Medicaid members in 24 counties. Nearly 10 years later, this ongoing initiative reflects a successful partnership between Behavioral Health Alliance of Rural Pennsylvania (BHARP), a group of county-based behavioral health and human service administrators, and UPMC’s Community Care Behavioral Health Organization (Community Care), a nonprofit behavioral health Medicaid managed care organization. Their nearly decade-long collaboration offers many lessons for providers, plans, and policymakers seeking to create broader access to trauma-informed care.

This webinar, made possible through the Seven Foundation Collaborative, featured presenters from the BHARP-Community Care partnership with experience implementing trauma-informed care across a network of behavioral health and human service providers in rural Pennsylvania. It focused on:

  • Lessons for increasing access to trauma-specific treatments for people with behavioral health conditions living in rural communities;
  • How to develop and support a trauma-informed organizational culture;
  • Considerations to sustain a trauma-informed approach; and
  • Health care provider perspective on adapting a trauma-informed approach over time.

Presenters included Lyndra Bills, MD, Senior Medical Director, Community Care Behavioral Health Organization; Shari Hutchison, MS, PMP, Director, Program Evaluation & Outcomes, Community Care Behavioral Health Organization; Chris Minnich, Director of Quality, Behavioral Health Alliance of Rural Pennsylvania; Charles Phelps, MSW, LCSW, Clinical Supervisor, CenClear.

This webinar is part of the Better Care Playbook Implementation Lab series. These sessions explore implementation strategies for specific models or tools with demonstrated evidence. 

Posted to The Playbook on