Mental Health America Houston Launches Texas Learning Community on Integrated Care
January 1, 2010
Story and photos by Traci Patterson, Mental Health America of Greater Houston
Growing evidence on interrelationships between the mind and body demonstrates the need for more effective ways to deliver health care. Many experts believe integrating physical and behavioral health care is an excellent way to improve people's overall health.
To help expand integrated care in Texas, Mental Health America of Greater Houston and the Hogg Foundation launched the Texas Learning Community on Integrated Care in November with a two-day workshop in Houston. Health and behavioral health practitioners, providers, leaders and consumers from member organizations in Dallas, El Paso, Georgetown, Houston, Lubbock, Plainview, Round Rock, San Antonio and Tyler attended.
For one year, learning community members will have opportunities to share experiences and explore and create strategies to help institute the practice of integrating primary and behavioral health care in local communities across Texas.
"Integrated care is an exciting model that can produce healthier patients by offering convenience and easier access to complete health care services. This approach removes barriers and reduces the stigma associated with seeking mental health care separately from physical care," said Betsy Schwartz, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Greater Houston.
According to the American Psychological Association, an estimated 60 percent of people visiting their primary care doctor seek help for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance use. Timely, early mental health interventions provided concurrently by a mental health or behavioral health care specialist can reduce unnecessary medical treatments and improve clinical and cost outcomes.
"As we look toward improving our nation's health care system, there are significant opportunities to improve the quality and delivery of behavioral health care for people in Texas," said Dr. Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., executive director of the Hogg Foundation. "Integrated care is an important consumer-centered approach that could promote better health outcomes and reduce health disparities that increase costs and mortality rates."
During the workshop, Kathy Reynolds with the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare and Sheila Ryan with the University of Nebraska discussed the significance of integrated care in the current and future health care agenda and facilitated presentations on national data, best practices and the role of learning communities.
Sam Shore, director of Mental Health Transformation and Behavioral Health Operations with the Texas Department of State Health Services expressed the state's awareness of the need for integrating mental and physical health. He said the agency is committed to working with the learning community to explore options that could benefit the public health care system in Texas.
"With the assistance and expertise this group brings, we look forward to developing practical and replicable solutions for integrating care that can help pave the way for other providers to improve the system of care in their communities," said Schwartz.