Experts discuss initiatives to expand behavioral health care in Washington – Reform State

Prominent public officials, including the president Joe Biden and Gov. Jay Insleehave identified behavioral health care as a priority service, and some experts discussed how they are advancing this in Washington in the 2022 Inland Northwest Reform State Health Policy Conference.

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The psychologist Dr. Noelle Turner of Mica Peak Psychology & Consulting was one of the panelists on the conference’s “An Honest Conversation About the Future of the Behavioral Health System” panel.

“I want to talk about integrated primary care or primary care behavioral health,” Turner said. “And the reason I’m passionate about this is that it combines medical and behavioral services for issues that patients bring to primary care, such as stress, physical symptoms, health behaviors, mental health, substance use disorders substances. For any problem, there is no wrong door.”

Behavioral health services are greatly needed, but some who need care have problems accessing it. Primary care physicians (PCPs) have expressed concern about the problem, Turner said.

“What we know is that 46% of adults will have it mental health or substance use problems at some point in their lives,” Turner said. “And that number has increased with the pandemic. We also know that 20% of primary care visits are for mental health or substance use issues alone, and this is where I see behavioral health in primary care shine. Of those 20% of PCP visits that are only for mental health and substance use problems, when PCPs were surveyed, about two-thirds of them said they cannot access mental health care because to their patients. [They’re] ready to do something and they can’t take care of them”.

Jeff Thomas, CEO of Frontier Behavioral Health, also participated in the panel. He identified telehealth, which was used extensively during the pandemic, as an effective way to deliver greater behavioral health services.

“We will continue to expand the use of technology and service delivery,” Thomas said. “Telehealth is here to stay. Exactly what it will look like is still being figured out [public health emergency] sort age types out. Surely there is a place in our world.”

Thomas said interoperability will be important so providers can share information across electronic medical records and have as much information as possible about patients.

“By the end of this year we will have interoperability with each of our primary care providers,” Thomas said. “It’s a great development. Community information exchanges are being explored. I think there will be some progress on that. It essentially has to do with ways that there can be portals for referrals and closed-loop referrals in social determinants of health providers”.

Another way to increase care is through greater expansion of communication-based hospital treatment, Thomas said. He noted that several Grants from the Department of Commerce have been distributed through the Behavioral Health Facilities Program to expand services at Behavioral Health Centers. This could help these facilities prepare to serve patients who are ready for discharge from hospitals but have been unable to secure placement in other health care organizations.

Jess Molberg, senior director of behavioral health at Coordinated Care, also participated in the panel. He said more small investments could help solve the problem.

“You’re seeing people stay longer in acute settings,” Molberg said. “We need these drop-off sites so people can continue their wellness journey. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this.”

Some states are using qualified mental health professionals (QMHPs) to reach more patients, which could be helpful in Washington, Molberg said.

“They go out into the community,” Molberg said. “They also sit in on clinics. If you can’t see your advisor, you can see this QMHP.”

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