Department of Psychiatry

Penn Behavioral Health

Mission and History


The Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research (CMHPSR) was established in 1986 and is one the centers in the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pennsylvania's (Penn) Medical Center, an outstanding international research institution. The psychiatry faculty at Penn is among the most creative and productive in this university and ranks second among departments of psychiatry in America in competition for National Institutes of Health research funding. The CMHPSR (previously the Section on Public Psychiatry) consists of a group of multidisciplinary faculty and staff interested in the public behavioral health care system.

Mission and Vision

The goal of the Center is: "To improve the quality and performance of behavioral health for public sector clients through research, evaluation, and education." The CMHPSR researches the organization, financing, and management structure of mental health care systems and the delivery of mental health services and provides consultation and technical support to those individuals and programs involved in implementing system change. The Center has attempted to use the results of its research and evaluation efforts to inform the decision making of public policy makers at local, state, and national levels.


The research agenda of CMHPSR takes a longitudinal and system-wide view of the mental health service system with a focus on persons with serious mental illness who are likely to be long term recipients of care. These individuals require services from multiple systems over long periods of time and across diverse funding sources. Research studies examine resource inputs (i.e. manpower, mix of services, intensity), program interventions and outputs such as client outcomes and cost. The research is designed to identify patterns, determinants, and related outcomes of different interventions. The effects of closing state hospitals and implementation of large-scale mandatory managed care programs are of current interest.



CMHPSR collaborates with many other research centers at Penn including the Centers for the Study of Addictions and Schizophrenia and the Geriatrics Program in the Department of Psychiatry, the Leonard Davis Institute (LDI) for Health Economics, a joint program between the Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School, and the Penn School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2).



The nature of service system research for the seriously mentally ill population requires the use of a number of large claims level databases (i.e. Medicaid and Medicare files), as well as the collection of primary clinical services data from interviews and surveys. Many of the Center's studies employ a unique longitudinal database on services provided to public mental health consumers in Philadelphia assembled over the last decade. This database provides an opportunity to examine the system-wide dynamics of service utilization and cost among the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems in a major urban setting. Center intervention or clinical services research efforts use client interviews, surveys or chart reviews to obtain data.


Program Evaluation

Program evaluation methods are used to inform the development of effective services for person with serious mental illness. Current projects in this area include jail diversion interventions for dually diagnosed individuals, family education interventions, involuntary outpatient mental health services, the process and outcome of clinical services under managed care, and the role of primary care physicians in the provision of mental health services. These methodologies are also employed in the Center's studies on the prevention of adolescent substance abuse and other high-risk behavior. A current project focuses on substance abuse prevention for parenting adolescents.


Consultation and Training

The Center's research efforts are enhanced through a comprehensive program in consultation and training for mental health, drug and alcohol, and geriatric service providers. Our objective is to link the best research and evaluation findings to policy decisions, and the delivery and implementation of services. The consultation/technical assistance function of the Center supports the planning activities of service providers and aids in the implementation of system change. In addition, consultation is provided to help others evaluate clinical outcomes of programs and the effectiveness of new services.

The Center's training activities are aimed at supervisors, program directors, and other middle managers in state and local community mental health, drug and alcohol, and aging services. In addition to management training, the Center provides a variety of service specific training programs designed to upgrade and support the redesign of service delivery programs, address the needs of special populations, and enhance the cultural competence of service delivery organizations and staff.


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