Experts discuss initiatives to expand behavioral health care in Washington – a state of reform

Prominent government officials, including the president Joe Biden and manager Jay Insleeidentified behavioral health care as a priority service, and some experts discussed how they are making progress on the issue in Washington on Conference on reformed health policy in the interior of the northwestern part of the country.

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Psychologist Dr. Noel Turner of Mica Peak Psychology & Consulting was one of the panelists at the “An Honest Conversation About the Future of the Behavioral Health System” conference.

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

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

“What we do know is that 46% of adults will have mental health or substance use problems at some point in their lives,” Turner said. “And that number actually increased with the pandemic. We also know that 20% of primary care visits are just for mental health or substance use issues, and that’s where I see primary care shining in behavioral health. Of that 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 could not access mental health care for their patients. [They’re] willing to do something and can’t make them care.”

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

“We will continue to expand the use of technology and service delivery,” Thomas said. “Telehealth is here to stay. Still figuring out exactly what that will look like [public health emergency] order is out of date. There is certainly a place for that in our world.”

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

“By the end of this year, we will have interoperability with every one of our primary care providers,” Thomas said. “This is such a fantastic development. Community information sharing is being explored. I think there will be some progress in that regard. This is essentially about having ways in which there can be referral portals and closed-loop referrals to the social determinants of health care providers.

Another way to increase care is by further expanding communication-based inpatient care, Thomas said. He noted that several Grants from the Department of Commerce are distributed through the Behavioral Health Facility Program to expand services in behavioral health facilities. This can help these facilities prepare to care for patients who are ready for hospital discharge but have been unable to secure placement in other health care settings.

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

“You see people staying longer in acute settings,” Molberg said. “We need these places for people to continue their wellness journey. There is 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 the clinics. If you can’t see your advisor, you can see this QMHP.

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