Q&A: Bahney Dedolph, deputy director of the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers, discusses mental health in Arizona

Dedolph joined the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers staff in January 2013 as the policy analyst and is currently the deputy director. Having read the biography of Jane Addams at a very young age, Dedolph dedicated her life to being a social worker and walking in the footsteps of founder of Hull House.  She received her Bachelor’s degree in applied behavioral sciences with an emphasis in direct practice and Women’s Studies from George Williams College, Master’s degree in sociology with a minor in anthropology from Texas Tech University and post graduate certificate in social work practice from the University of Denver.  Dedolph’s work experience stretches from direct practice to systems advocacy to program management and supervision. She has worked in the domestic violence field and became the director of public policy at the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She also worked for Catholic Charities, Fresh Start Women’s Resource Center as Operations Manager and as a mobile crisis therapist for LaFrontera EMPACT-SPC.

As deputy director at the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers, Dedolph helps track legislation that impacts families and communities in Arizona including mental health treatment and suicide prevention. I asked Dedolph about Gov. Doug Ducey’s call for mental health provider reform in Arizona which has seen a spike in reported suicides.

 

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Monte Whaley: What falls under the purview of the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers?

BD: “Well, we are a member association and we provide over 100 member mental health services all across the state including all the public sector medical agencies and the Arizona Department of Child Safety. We also serve low income and vulnerable populations and we also contract with private insurance to provide health services and not to just Medicaid families but pretty much all families.

“We operate over 700 facilities and serve over one million clients every year. We employ about 32,000 staff in every county and congressional district in Arizona. We help in advocacy over a broad range of issues which change nearly every year.”

MW: In his State of the State address this month, Gov. Doug Ducey talked about how he wants to change how mental health care is provided in Arizona. He said insurance companies should be covering mental health care just like they do an annual physical. What exactly does that mean?

 BD: “Well, I don’t necessarily want to speak for Mr. Ducey, but what I hope he meant by that is that we will begin to offer the same care for mental health that is provided through a person’s health insurance. A federal law passed in 2008 requires parity in the treatment of mental health and substance abuse problems. The law (the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act) says if an insurance company provides mental health services as part of their coverage they have to cover the costs with parity with physical health services. You can’t require different co-pays for mental health services, for instance.

But people are still having different mental health and substance abuse requirements for services through their insurance. It is not such a big issue for the Medicaid population but it is an issue for someone on commercial insurance through their employers.”

MW: Suicide prevention is now a hot topic in not only Arizona but all over the country. Given your background, is there a clear answer on how to prevent someone from taking their own life?

BD: “That is a complicated question and any person contemplating suicide has probably their own unique story to be told. But I do think we should be worried about anxiety and depression among young people and I don’t see that as an overdiagnosis. I think if we can reach those young people suffering from anxiety and depression we can change the whole trajectory of their lives. When I talk to parents who have died from suicide, they did not have access to mental health treatment and I think parity becomes part of the issue for many suicides. But we have a long ways toward addressing the free flow of anxiety in our country and this moment. It’s not a simple answer.”

MW: Is this sudden emphasis on getting more access to mental health treatment in Arizona surprise you, given the state’s conservative reputation? For many conservatives, looking to government for help seems to run counter to its history?

BD: “Well, this should not be a partisan issue at all. We are talking about protecting our young children. I think the difference between a conservative and a liberal is there solution to a problem. Should it be a government-based solution or should we turn to a community organization for help? The bottom line is that should have access to mental health care when paying for their insurance. It should be available to everybody.”

MW: What has been the reaction of insurance companies when it comes to the issue of access parity for mental health treatment? Are many willing to extend benefits or is there still a reluctance to put mental health care on par with physical health?

BD: “There a wide variety of insurance companies in the state and all have different approaches to how they provide services to their clients. Clearly, they have a bottom line they have to address as well as our providers. But I think many insurance companies are seeing the benefits of cost reductions in the physical health side. We see that in getting help to kids who are having mental health problems. If we can get them early on, there is huge benefit later on in their adult lives. When insurance companies start seeing those benefits they might be more enthusiastic about offering mental health services earlier.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.