Innovation Award

Congratulations to the UHC Behavioral Health Integration Team!

University Health Center
  • Heather Buffington, MBA
  • Jennifer Hester, LCSW
  • Mike Creech, LCSW
  • Ash Thompson, MD
  • Finbar “Barry” Woitalla, MD

This group's nominator had the following to share:

“The University Health Center (UHC) is committed to successfully and effectively meeting the needs of students. As national trends indicate, more students are seeking mental health services through college counseling centers. The UHC sought to create a model that would engage the student earlier in hopes of mitigating crisis, as well as offer support to students who may never access services through the counseling center (CAPS).   


Two years ago, the University Health Center executive director, in conjunction with CAPS and primary care leadership, determined that integration was necessary in order to holistically and successfully treat the student while increasing access to services. The UHC implemented the Collaborative Care Model which integrates Behavioral Health into Primary Care to offer more comprehensive and proactive support to patients experiencing mental/behavioral health concerns. The intention was to embed Behavioral Health Care Managers (BHCMs) in the primary care clinics who could provide timely, cost-effective mental health services to patients and enhance access to care. Delivering mental health services in primary care reduces stigma and often leads to quicker outcomes.  


Implementation of BHCMs into UHC primary care clinics began in Fall 2018; since that time, the program has increased in staff, utilization, and overall success! There are currently three BHCMs in UHC primary care clinics who play an integral role in the Collaborative Care treatment model by providing:

  • on-site mental health expertise and consultation with primary care providers,
  • evidence-based clinical interventions, evaluation, and brief counseling,
  • systematic tracking of treatment response and progress,
  • ongoing communication with primary care providers,
  • service as liaison to Psychiatric Consultant, and
  • internal and external referrals based on clinical indication and patient preference. 


In addition to the BHCM integration into primary care, another essential component of this effort was the infusion of universal screenings for depression and suicidality into the primary care workflows. This means that every time a student meets with a primary care provider, the student is screened for levels of depressive symptoms and suicidality. Guidelines offer decision making support and risk stratification to assist primary care providers in feeling confident about addressing mental health needs in their setting.


Through the integration of behavioral health components: BHCMs, a psychiatric consultant, and validated, routine screenings, primary care providers are not only feeling more confident in addressing mental health concerns, but also excited about barriers to mental health care access actively being broken down. Students directly benefit from the innovation and implementation – the promise this behavioral health integration has shown supports its growth and increased access for students to high-quality mental health care. ”


Recipient: Individual or Group

Do you have a coworker who embodies innovation and creativity in their work? Are you someone that is actively developing new solutions to help students succeed?

This award recognizes an individual or group of individuals that utilized a creative approach to advance the work of UGA Student Affairs. Nominees for this award have shown initiative to innovate and create solutions that address a gap or need within their department or the Division.

Nominations will be evaluated according to one or more of the following criteria:

  • Establishing and/or strengthening relationships with campus partners external to UGA Student Affairs to foster a supportive student development environment
  • Identifying a creative and sustainable solution to an identified gap or need in their department or the Division to advance the mission of UGA Student Affairs
  • Demonstrating initiative in the creation of a new process or solution to enrich student development or enhance departmental effectiveness
  • Individual nominee must serve as a current UGA Student Affairs staff member at time of nomination – at least one person in a group nomination must serve as a current UGA Student Affairs staff member at time of nomination

Previous Award Winners

Staff Awards

The Student Affairs Staff Awards, given to deserving staff across the division and the University, recognize outstanding accomplishments and leadership in student affairs at the University of Georgia.