On World Mental Health Day, Let’s Commit to Expanding Health Care Access

a counselor sees a patient in a sunlit office

As we observe World Mental Health Day, it’s important to acknowledge that far too many people still face hurdles when they try to receive care for a mental health or substance use challenge.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Many communities demonstrate every day what it looks like when barriers to access are broken down.

In Oklahoma, National Council member GRAND Mental Health is providing unparalleled crisis care and has distributed more than 8,000 iPads to clients and law enforcement, giving people throughout the communities it serves instant access to crisis services, reducing police interventions and reducing incarcerations.

Providing access has paid off countless times.

It paid off earlier this year when a student at Oklahoma State University used an iPad provided by GRAND to call for help. The student threatened suicide and declined to share her location, but the GPS-enabled iPad allowed staff to locate her and provide appropriate treatment.

It also paid off when a child called to report that she was in pain after taking over-the-counter drugs to complete suicide.

“My stomach hurts, please help,” she told crisis counselors.

Even though the child had traveled from Oklahoma to South Carolina to visit family, GRAND Mental Health staff determined her location and called first responders. They were able to remain in contact with her throughout the crisis and keep her awake until the child received the care she needed.

Providing widespread access to therapists and crisis counselors through the iPads has reduced inpatient hospitalizations by 93%, GRAND Mental Health CEO Larry Smith said.

In Syracuse, New York, another National Council member, Helio Health, is getting clients back on their feet by offering instant access to comprehensive care. They’re also providing crisis counseling, access to medication and access to intensive case management services, among other things.

In return, Helio Health has seen improvements in psychotropic medication use, long-acting injectable use, reduced emergency room use and reduced use of other crisis services among its clients. In addition, the model has helped Helio Health expand access to integrated care directly in 22 schools.

And no one is turned away.

“There are days when 20, 30, 40 people walk in who we’ve never seen before. If you have a behavioral health condition, we will make sure you get the services you need because we offer immediate access to care,” Helio Health President and CEO Jeremy Klemanski said. “It’s a complete ambulatory package. Whether it’s access to medication or case management or crisis counseling. Whether you need help with vocational or housing services. Even if you need help in the middle of the night.”

In Missouri, behavioral health clinics are serving nearly 30% more patients and have been able to provide same-day service to many clients, according to The New York Times.

In addition to building the infrastructure for mental health and substance use treatment services, clinics like those in Oklahoma, New York and Missouri are:

  • Improving integration of physical care with mental health and substance use care.
  • Eliminating wait lists so people receive care immediately.
  • Eliminating barriers to access among those traditionally underserved, including justice-involved individuals, veterans, older adults, youth and homeless.
  • Expanding the capacity of states to address the overdose crisis.
  • Establishing innovative partnerships with law enforcement, schools and hospitals to improve care, reduce recidivism and prevent hospital readmissions.

How are all those services being provided? Through Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs). Helio Health, GRAND Mental Health and Compass Health Network are three of the nearly 500 CCBHCs in the nation working diligently to improve health outcomes using this highly successful model.

Awareness about CCBHCs is slowly gaining traction. Recent passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is partly responsible. This new law was a down payment on funding for mental health and substance use care after decades of starving those services. We’re still paying for those policy failures, but CCBHCs provide an opportunity to quickly, efficiently fill gaping holes in mental health and substance use treatment.

The New York Times last week published a lengthy editorial endorsing the CCBHC model as a solution to repair our nation’s failed mental health policies and help those in need of treatment.

“CCBHCs are a bridge to health equity. They allow us to reach people who don’t have resources. If we could get a CCBHC within a short distance of everyone in this country, we would see a lot of changes, but it’s still too hard to access care,” Klemanski said.

Helio Health’s data illustrates how they have broken down barriers to access. Before it became a CCBHC, Helio Health’s outpatient clinic in Syracuse served 3,802 clients. Last year, in its fifth year as a CCBHC, Helio Health’s CCBHC served 8,054 clients – an increase of 112%.

GRAND Mental Health has 12,500 open charts at any one time, and now they have their sights set on reducing suicides in northeastern Oklahoma, where they’re based.

“We start with the outcome in mind and then we work to reach that outcome,” GRAND Mental Health Chief Operating Officer Josh Cantwell said. “We’re trying to treat communities, not just the people in them.”

As we observe World Mental Health Day, it’s important to remember that we may have a long way to go to eliminate barriers to access, but CCBHCs can help us overcome those barriers.

Author

Charles Ingoglia, MSW
President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing
See bio