Cheryl White | Executive Director | Centre Volunteers in Medicine
Navigating mental health resources can be challenging, even for those with health insurance. For those who are uninsured, the situation can be over-whelming. In August of 2019, The Highmark Foundation awarded Centre Volunteers in Medicine (CVIM) a one-year grant to integrate behavioral health services with primary medical care. Using the AIMS (Advancing Integrated Mental Health Solutions) collaborative care model, behavioral healthcare services are now available to medical patients at CVIM. Since the beginning of the program in mid-September, we have admitted over 50 patients into the program.
Patients enrolled in the new program find comfort in being able to receive their mental health care in an office with which they are familiar. Comprehensive, integrated care leads to improved health outcomes, quality of care, and better collaboration between clinical specialties. Research shows, and we expect to see patient outcomes improve not only for mental health diagnoses, but also for outcomes in chronic disease management, decreased in-patient hospitalizations, and decreased frequency of emergency care. The potential for the program may be life changing for many who have previously gone without care or struggled to find or afford consistent quality mental health care.
We had been aware of the need for behavioral health services since the inception of CVIM in 2003. Patients diagnosed with a wide range of mental conditions continue to struggle to find affordable care in our community and are often subjected to long waiting lists for services. Few options exist for uninsured individuals to get care. In the fall of 2016, two psychologists came to CVIM with a desire to volunteer. Another followed shortly behind. Their desire to volunteer was the foundation of a plan to begin providing behavioral health services to CVIM patients. A pilot program began in the fall of 2017. The initial program provided a half-day per month of evaluation and assessment to assist primary care physicians with mental health diagnoses; physicians had desired this support for many years. The program, while small, assisted our overwhelmed physicians and struggling patients.
In the fall of 2018, CVIM established a formal planning committee charged with the responsibility of designing expanded services for patients who present with both physical health and mental/emotional health presenting problems upon admission to CVIM. Committee membership included leadership, a clinic staff case manager, volunteer psychologists, volunteer psychiatrists, counselors, and other interested mental health professionals. The work of this committee expanded from the original pilot to evaluation of integrated models and selection of the AIMS model, which fully integrates behavioral health services into primary care. Thanks to the Highmark Foundation, whose grant enabled us to add part-time paid behavioral health professionals to the existing team of volunteer providers.