Experts discuss initiatives to expand behavioral health care in Washington – State of Reform

Prominent public officials, including the President Joe Biden and Gov. Jay Insleehave identified behavioral health care as a priority service, and several experts discussed how they are making progress on it in Washington in 2022 Inland Northwest State Reform Health Policy Conference.

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Psychology Dr. Noelle Turner, of Mica Peak Psychology & Consulting, was one of the panelists on the conference panel “A Candid Conversation on the Future of the Behavioral Health System.”

“I want to talk about integrated primary care or primary care behavioral health,” Turner said. “And the reason I’m passionate about this is that it combines medical and behavioral services for the problems that patients bring to primary care, including stress, physical symptoms, health behaviors, mental health, substance use disorders. For every problem, there is no wrong door.”

Behavioral health services are in great need, but few who need care have difficulty accessing them. Primary care physicians (PCPs) have expressed concerns about the issue, Turner said.

“What we do know is that 46% of adults will have mental health or substance use problems at some point in their lives,” Turner said. “And that number has actually increased with the pandemic. We also know that 20% of primary care visits are just for mental health or substance use issues, and here see the glow of primary care behavioral health. Of the 20% of PCP visits that are only for mental health and substance use concerns, when PCPs were surveyed, about two-thirds said they could not access to mental health care for their patients. [They’re] ready to do something and they can’t take care of them.”

Jeff Thomas, CEO at Frontier Behavioral Health, also participated in the panel. He identified telehealth, which was widely used during the pandemic, as an effective way to deliver growing behavioral health services.

“We will continue to expand the use of technology and service delivery,” said Thomas. “Telehealth is here to stay. Exactly what this will look like is still being figured out [public health emergency] order kind of ages out. There is a place for it in our world for sure.”

Thomas said interoperability will be important so that providers can share information through electronic medical records and have as much information about patients as possible.

“By the end of this year we will have interaction with every single one of our primary care providers,” Thomas said. “It’s such a fantastic development. Community information exchanges are being explored. I think there will be some progress in this direction. This is essentially about the ways in which there can be closed referral and referral portals for the social determinants of health providers.”

Another way to improve care is through further expansion of communication-based hospital treatment, Thomas said. He noted that some Department of Commerce Grants are distributed through the Behavioral Health Facilities program to expand services in behavioral health facilities. This can help those facilities prepare to care for patients who are ready to be discharged to hospitals but have not been able to secure placement in other health care organizations.

Jess Molberg, Senior Director of Behavioral Health at Coordinated Care, also participated in the panel. She said more investment in the downturn could help address the issue.

“You’re seeing people staying in acute settings longer,” Molberg said. “We need those landing spots so people can continue their wellness journey. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this.”

Some states use qualified mental health professionals (QMHPs) to reach more patients, which could be helpful in Washington, Molberg said.

“They go out into the community,” Molberg said. “They also sit in clinics. If you can’t see your advisor, you can see this QMHP.”

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