Morris Hospital Addressing Mental Health Needs in Primary Care Setting
For as long as modern medicine has been in practice, primary care has been vital in addressing our physical concerns and health-related issues.
Often viewed as the patient’s most trusted medical professional, a primary care provider guides patients through a wide variety of health care needs, usually for routine and traditional reasons. Primary care providers build lasting relationships with their patients, deliver compassionate care, strive to prevent potential health issues, and point their patients to reliable specialists when more advanced care is required. But the catch is, this traditional form of primary care has come with an unspoken caveat: mental health treatment is usually addressed elsewhere in another setting.
Specifically, behavioral health is the connection between the health and well-being of the mind and body. This involves several aspects of our lives, such as what we eat and drink, our activities and habits, and a variety of mental health conditions. The problem is, only 43 percent of the 44.7 million adults with mental health disorders receive treatment. And the need and demand is only increasing, including in our local communities.
“The need for behavioral health treatment is high,” says Dr. Jennifer Thomas, a board-certified family medicine physician with Morris Hospital. “Many of these issues the primary care provider can tackle and treat. But, traditionally, mental health has been very siloed from physical health in our medical health system.”
Seeing this obstacle, Dr. Thomas embraced the opportunity to break new ground by spearheading a new, integrated behavioral health program that incorporates the whole person – both mind and body – into a primary care provider’s realm so treatment for depression and anxiety can come as easily to a patient as it does for a cough or earache.
“It’s really a practice transformation. It’s a different philosophy for everyone – for the healthcare system, for the primary care provider, and even the patient,” says Dr. Thomas, director of the Integrated Behavioral Health Program at Morris Hospital. “Our new approach empowers people to have an open, compassionate conversation that allows primary care to address mental health needs.”
Currently available at eight of Morris Hospital’s primary care locations, Integrated Behavioral Health Care is structured from the Collaborative Care model developed at the University of Washington, a national leader on behavioral health integration that has helped Morris Hospital build its program. This model establishes three team members for the patient’s behavioral health care: a primary care provider, a behavioral health care coordinator, and a consulting psychiatrist.
Together, this team is able to provide behavioral health treatment for patients of all ages in the primary care setting, addressing mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and beyond.
“One of the biggest benefits of treating mental health in the primary care setting is the team based approach,” Dr. Thomas says. “Patients really appreciate their providers communicating and working together. It helps you feel seen and heard and like you’re getting the best possible care.”
“The public has embraced integrated behavioral health with open arms and excitement,” Dr. Thomas says. “I’ve had many patients tell me they wish we had this years ago. It helps you be able to start the process for the patient and have that conversation and empower patients to talk to their primary care provider about mental health. We can address a lot of things right here in the primary care office. It’s just a really great opportunity to engage patients in a healthcare setting that they are already comfortable and familiar with.”
For now, the program is only available through primary care providers at select Morris Hospital locations, but Dr. Thomas envisions a future when mental health concerns are treated through primary care providers just as easily as any other health concern.
“I hope to see in the future that behavioral health integration is part of really great primary care. It would be just part of the package,” Dr. Thomas says. “You would go in for your blood pressure checks or school physicals and it would coincide with mental health screening and mental health treatment. We are proud to be leading the way in behavioral health integration in Illinois.”
BEHAVIORAL HEALTH PROGRAM
Morris Hospital’s Integrated Behavioral Health Program is available in primary care settings in Channahon, Gardner, Minooka, Morris, Ottawa, and Seneca. For more information, visit morrishospital.org/integratedcare