Utah’s CHCs makes moves to further integrate behavioral and physical health

Utah’s thirteen Community Health Centers (CHC) — operating from 40 service sites — are on the “forefront” of implementing physical health and behavioral health integration in the state, according to Emily Bennett, behavioral health integrated care coordinator at the Association of Utah Community Health (AUCH). 

 

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Bennett says the majority of the CHCs have in-house behavioral health clinicians as well as physical health clinicians. These clinicians typically offer up traditional 50-minute sessions with patients to address behavioral and mental health problems.

However, a few of the CHCs have behavioral health clinicians who act like physical health clinicians, says Bennett. The behavioral health clinicians are offering “brief interventions” — of no more than 15 to 20 minutes — while the patient is there seeing their physical health provider. These interventions act as check-ins for those who might not need or cannot fit in a weekly 50-minute session with a behavioral health clinician, according to Bennett. 

“A lot of people don’t need traditional therapy to see a therapist every week for an hour. They want something that is going to work now. So, those more integrated visits are really brief interventions and tools that are given to that patient right then, and they can go home and try those things right away.” 

Bennett says a fully integrated primary care clinic can allow for those who need routine visits with a behavioral health care provider to get swift access to those providers. The brief interventions would reduce rising waitlists and give patients access to their preferred method of treatment. 

“It could keep them from needing a higher level of care, and help with the waitlists that tend to happen with behavioral health providers. If people can get those interventions in more of a brief way and get what they need in that way, then those people who need more of that traditional therapy will be able to access that a little more smoothly.”

Bennett highlights the rise in demand of behavioral health services coupled with the declining workforce in the field of behavioral health primary care providers. She says Utah has been currently experiencing longer than normal waiting periods for care at CHCs that are not fully integrated.

AUCH says CHCs are continually attempting to hire and expand their recruitment strategies. AUCH recently launched a workforce recruitment webpage to try to educate behavioral health professionals about the primary care career path. However, Bennett says CHCs are having difficulty hiring due to the challenging nature of the work. 

Bennett says she is working to encourage all CHCs to continue to push more integration of behavioral health services with physical health services, and use these “brief interventions” when assisting their community.