Kilgore MHFA 01Kilgore teaching MHFA at Firehouse ShelterJames “Rick” Kilgore, Ph.D., PA-C, assistant professor in the School of Health ProfessionsDepartment of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences and a Certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor, taught the first in a series of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) classes to the Firehouse Shelter staff and volunteers in May.

Kilgore implemented this program in Birmingham as part of the Physician Assistant Foundation’s Mental Health Outreach Fellows program. He is 1 of only 16 Physician Assistants chosen for the fellowship to conduct outreach in communities as trainers using the validated Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum.

“My goal is to equip those individuals who on a daily basis come into contact with individuals who utilize the services of the Firehouse Shelter with the skills to recognize individuals who may be experiencing a mental health condition and connect them with the needed services,” said Kilgore. “The program emphasizes awareness of a potential mental health problem, listening nonjudgmentally, giving the individual reassurance, and encouraging both professional and self-help. This approach – called ALGEE – can be utilized for the majority of mental health related issues.”

The fellowship, sponsored by the American Academy of Physician Assistants PA Foundation, the National Council for Behavioral Health, and Takeda Pharmaceuticals, equips a pilot cohort of PAs to connect their clinical expertise and compassion to community need with a specific emphasis on mental health.

Doug Kovash, assistant director of the Firehouse Shelter, says the training is advantageous for everyone involved with the organization that offers the largest continuum of services to the homeless in Birmingham and the state of Alabama.

“The benefit for staff and volunteers is the knowledge of various mental health issues the men are facing, the complexity of each of these crises, and how the responses to these men can positively or negatively impact their current situation,” said Kovash who took part in the first round of training. “If the crisis is severe, getting professional help is crucial and understanding our role and our limits is vital!”

Kilgore will be providing the MHFA training this summer across Alabama at Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) in rural and medically underserved areas. This is an area that he has been passionate about his entire career and he understands that limited services in rural and underserved areas only heightens the need for trained mental health first aid individuals to help as a link in the process of helping individuals get needed services.

Kilgore says the Alabama State Department of Education has approached him to conduct training for more than 200 health science teachers this summer at their annual professional development conference in Birmingham.