Grants Fund Innovative Programs Integrating Mental Health Services With Primary Care Visits

Bassett Medical Center is undertaking a project that will integrate mental health services into the primary care setting and train primary care providers to screen for behavioral health disorders that can adversely impact a patient’s health. This innovative approach to identifying and treating mental health issues will initially be offered in health centers in Schoharie, Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Herkimer Counties and is funded by a combination of foundation and government grants totaling $432,812.

“There has been a tremendous unmet need for quality mental health services across central New York, so we’re grateful for the variety of funds to help get this new program underway,” said Bassett Medical Center Chief of Psychiatry Celeste Johns, M.D.

In the U.S., half of the care for common mental health disorders is delivered in general medical settings, emphasizing the role of primary care providers in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. For this reason, the World Health Organization has identified the integration of mental health into primary care as the best way of addressing the burden of mental health conditions and has noted its urgent importance. Both the federal Healthy People 2020 Objectives and the New York State Health Improvement Plan/Prevention Agenda for 2013-2017 identify increased depression screening and referrals in primary care as a key strategy for improving access to care by children and adults and preventing substance abuse, depression and other mental illness.

With the new grant awards, Bassett is in the process of hiring mental health care coordinators and licensed clinical social workers to help integrate physical and behavioral health care services for patients. These professionals will develop mental health screening instruments and tools for use by primary care providers and will provide training to primary care providers on how to use these tools in the clinic setting. Mental health workers will also be hired to provide direct mental health services to patients.

“We want to help connect the dots for patients, especially for the elderly, as many may not realize that their lack of energy may be due to depression,” said Johns. “We’ll have a mental health worker right there in the primary care clinic that they can see or speak with immediately.”

It is expected that once these integrated programs are fully underway, they will become self-sustaining from fee-for-service revenues and improved efficiencies from fewer missed appointments and reduced readmissions. The long range plan is to expand these innovative programs throughout Bassett Healthcare Network, with the overall goal of improving the health status of patients.

The grants awarded in support of this project are as follows:

$147,812 from the Appalachian Regional Commission, covering Chenango, Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie counties, to recruit and hire new mental health care coordinators and licensed clinical social workers to support the ability of primary care health providers to identify and respond to their patients' mental health needs and to provide direct care services.

$130,000 from the New York State Office of Mental Health to recruit and hire a new mental health care coordinator and a licensed clinical social worker to implement the integrated services project, for the elderly, in Schoharie County.

$75,000 from the Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York, $75,000 from the Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties, and a $5,000 planning grant from Herkimer County HealthNet, to implement the new program in Herkimer County.