$3M gift creates innovative health program
Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings have made a $3 million legacy gift to establish a state-of-the-art behavioral health program at ASU. The Nicholas A. Cummings Behavioral Health Program is housed in the School of Letters and Sciences on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus.
Cummings was the innovator behind the school’s new doctor of behavioral health (DBH) degree program, and created it with the intention of integrating all of the mental health professions – psychology, social work, counseling, marriage and family therapy – to train the behavioral health practitioner to practice in primary care and other medical settings and become an integral part of the nation’s health care system.
The program’s unique curriculum combines behavioral interventions in primary care, medical literacy, business entrepreneurship and e-health technology. The program launched this fall with 58 doctoral candidates. Enrollment was greater than expected, reinforcing that the program clearly meets the need for a new model of behavioral care.
“This investment by Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings provides a stable financial foundation for the behavioral health program,” said Frederick Corey, dean of ASU’s University College and director of the School of Letters and Sciences. “We will continue to hire the nation’s very best faculty in integrated behavioral care. We will train professionals to provide patients with behavioral interventions in primary care settings, helping them lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.”
The DBH is designed to prepare behavioral clinicians to work within an interdisciplinary primary care team. It is an upgrade for master’s level clinicians – professionals with a master’s degree in psychology, social work or family therapy, plus seven years of practice – who are interested in working at a doctoral level in primary care.
The DBH reflects a paradigm shift to a curriculum that is based on:
• Evidence-based behavioral interventions for primary care.
• Medical literacy in order to understand and consult with the medical team.
• Health care economics and policy in order to respond to emerging health care reform.
• Business skills such as writing a business plan, marketing and return on investment.
Focused clinical practicum experiences are arranged with preceptors and administrators in students’ local health care settings. Experiences with rural, disadvantaged and multicultural populations are encouraged.
“Graduates of the behavioral health program will contribute to a societal transformation by leading to improved access to behavioral care, integration of a behavioral provider on the medical team, improved patient outcome and satisfaction, and decreased cost of care,” said Ron O’Donnell, director of the behavioral health program. “We have Dr. Cummings, and his foresight and innovation, to thank for it.”
Cummings has worked in the psychology field for more than 60 years. He is a former president of the American Psychological Association, as well as its clinical psychology and psychotherapy divisions. He served as chief of mental health for the Kaiser Permanente health system in the 1950s. He was the creator and chief executive officer of American Biodyne, the nation’s first psychology-driven managed behavioral health organization.
“We are not providing people in our society with satisfactory behavioral health care,” Corey said. “Nick Cummings is a bold entrepreneur who is not afraid to advance new ideas. He has an approach to behavioral health that is direct, cost-effective and based on evidence. We need this program.”
Cummings, who is a distinguished professor at the University of Nevada-Reno, currently teaches one of the major courses in the behavioral health program at ASU.
“The readiness for this program, not only on behalf of clinicians and doctors but patients, as well, is so evident in the huge number of applicants we had for the first cohort,” Cummings said. “I’m 86 this year, and it’s nice to know that this has come to fruition in my lifetime. I had given up hope. Now behavioral health can take its rightful place in the health care system.”