Hospitals improve access to mental healthcare services

After years of funding cuts to the nation's mental health infrastructure, hospital emergency departments are often left to care for mentally ill or addicted patients, who represent nearly 4 percent of all ED visits. Now, many providers strive to improve their behavioral healthcare options, according to Hospitals & Health Networks.

The healthcare system's increased emphasis on value-based and accountable care adds urgency to the issue of behavioral health, American Hospital Association President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock told H&HN. "As the world moves to that type of payment system, keeping a population healthy means keeping them healthy physically, mentally and, frankly, socially," he said.

In New York, Montefiore Health System responded to primary care doctors' requests for help in behavioral health treatment by adding psychiatrists and social workers to its 23 primary care sites. Under its new care model, Montefiore screens all primary care clinic patients for depression at least once a year, sending patients who display red flags to social workers, who then evaluate the patients and consult with psychiatrists to determine whether they would benefit from their services.

Similarly, New Jersey-based Atlantic Health System embeds psychologists in several departments, including cardiology, bariatrics, diabetes and pain management. Chronic conditions have psychiatric as well as physical aspects, said Linda Reed, R.N., Atlantic's vice president of integrative and behavioral medicine and chief information officer, and incorporating that kind of care from the start helps patients cope and reduces the risk of hospitalizations.

In St. Louis, several local community mental health centers and hospitals, anticipating even greater demand after a state mental hospital closed in 2010, formed the Behavioral Health Network of Greater St. Louis. Participating hospitals and mental health services coordinate care, with the former referring patients to the latter. The network is funded by the state and an annual participants' fee.

Last year, health officials in the South Los Angeles area combined mental health and urgent care services, creating a standalone clinic that provides psychiatric evaluations, medication, counseling and long-term referrals, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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