Behavioral health providers are hard to reach in Utah, according to UHPP
Allison Heffernan, behavioral health outreach and enrollment program director at Utah Health Policy Project (UHPP), said access to behavioral health providers is greatly lacking in the state. According to Heffernan, the solution is policy work and removing administrative barriers to care.
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UHPP strives to enact meaningful policy to assist in getting all Utahns insured. They use health access assisters , who target uninsured individuals and help get them through the process of acquiring health insurance. In 2019, 8.6% of Uthans were uninsured, which was slightly below the national average, at 10.9%.
Heffernan said in rural areas, clinics with behavioral health professionals are sparse and some residents have to travel 50+ miles to get to a clinic.
“If there [were] more providers within rural areas, it could hopefully help people seek the care that they need.”
In Salt Lake City, Medicaid members might not have a nearby behavioral health provider covered under their program. This challenge makes it harder for folks to find where they are permitted to access care under their plans.
These barriers lead to people deferring care until it reaches a crisis point. When at a crisis point, patients go to emergency departments, overload those departments, and do not get adequate and proper care from behavioral and mental health care professionals.
Heffernan said Utah is in crisis response mode when it comes to caring for behavioral health needs. This means needs are not being met preemptively due to administrative barriers and lack of providers, and it leads to more Utahns experiencing emergency crises.
“COVID has perpetuated a lot of mental health issues that were already there for people. [COVID] exacerbated situations and has even caused more of a crisis response for people who don’t know who to turn to or have resources for them. So, I think [Utah] is in a crisis response state and we need to focus and switch to is more preventative and better health equity for all Utahns.”
Heffernan thinks administrative barriers need to be reduced to solve this problem. From personal experience, she has seen people struggle to verify their information and go through the process of getting insured, getting to a covered clinic, and getting the proper care. She said many have trouble also have trouble with language barriers and access to the internet. Health access assisters are UHPP’s best tactic to assist on their end.
Heffernan thinks policy at the state level is the best way to combat these issues and to make access to services and providers more equitable.