Making it easier and faster to get mental health care with primary providers is the goal of PeaceHealth’s new integrated behavioral health teams.
Mental health and substance use are particular challenges for Whatcom residents, according to the most recent Community Health Improvement Plan 2012-16 from the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center and Whatcom County Health Department.
“Adding an integrated behavioral health team improves patient care by proactively identifying mental health concerns, decreasing stigma, increasing access and awareness,” said Rebecca Springer, clinical manager of the integrated behavioral health team for the PeaceHealth Northwest Network.
Bringing in a behavioral health team is a new concept to PeaceHealth that was adopted from a model developed at the University of Washington, which is supported by more than 80 randomized trials that demonstrates its efficiency and improved outcomes for patients, according to Springer in an email interview.
Danielle Kizer is the medical director and section chief of St. Joseph Medical Center’s inpatient behavioral health. She said in an email interview that several PeaceHealth staff members have completed the community-based fellowship program by the University of Washington’s Advancing Integrated Mental Health Solutions Center.
Team members provide crisis care, eating disorder treatment, evaluation and diagnostics, medicine management, neuropsychology, substance abuse programs and therapy and counseling services. With these services, this team has been treating conditions such as addiction, bipolar disorders, child development, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders and schizophrenia.
“Evidence has shown that these conditions can be managed well in primary care settings and with improved outcomes,” Springer said.
“There are not enough psychiatric providers in the country and not enough are being trained to fill the gaps,” Kizer said. “This model allows for improved access to evidence-based psychiatric care, improved support of primary care providers and allows the clients to receive care within their primary care office.”
Allowing patients to receive mental heal care at their primary care office also increases community accessibility.
“Patients are often able to access care sooner than traditional mental health routes,” Springer said. “A team approach to care utilizes everyone’s expertise and increases a patient’s access to a psychiatric consultant, which is often more affordable and accessible than traditional models of care.”
Springer and Kizer said the team, currently serving St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Cordata main clinic, the Center for Senior Health and Peace Island Medical Center in Friday Harbor, works together with other health care providers at PeaceHealth to ensure they are giving correct and fast care to their patients.
“Integrated behavioral health providers are engaged in consistent communication with patients, their primary care provider and psychiatric consultant,” Springer said.
“The primary clinician in this integrated behavioral health model is a therapist,” Kizer said. “Therapists are supported by psychiatric consultants who meet with them weekly to review cases and make medication recommendations to the primary care provider.”
Springer emphasized the approach taken by this team is heavily researched and personalized to each patient.
“The team’s approach can be described as one where they respect each patient as an individual — practicing with genuine, compassionate curiosity,” Springer said. “They are always mindful of what is happening for them in the present, leveraging personal strengths and diversity to support patient-identified goals. They educate to support understanding and so patients are better able to identify personal warning signs, who to reach out to when they need support, and what works for them to decrease symptoms and improve their quality of life.”
PeaceHealth has 5 members on the team and others are being hired for other offices, according to Kizer.
The expansion is planned for pediatrics, internal medicine, family medicine, the Center for Senior Health, and Fairhaven Family Medicine, Kizer said. “Integrated behavioral health providers will also be available in the primary care clinics in Sedro-Wooley, Burlington and Friday Harbor,” she said.