Benton and Linn Counties Partner for Seamless Coordination

Together with the Institute for Behavioral Health Integration, their goal is to help primary care providers integrate behavioral health into their practice.

Primary care providers have become the backbone of healthcare reform, and are challenged to do more than ever to reduce costs and improve outcomes. And it’s not just the obvious physical problems, but behavioral issues as well.

According to researchers Patricia Robinson and Jeff Reiter, up to 70% of all primary care visits are the result of psychosocial issues. Unless providers have the necessary tools, potentially costly problems will go unnoticed, or even worse, untreated.

Now, with help from organizations like The Institute for Behavioral Health Integration (IBHI) in Corvallis, primary care providers are learning how to incorporate behavioral health into their practice.

“There’s a huge crossover between mind and body,” Carolyn Brooks, business development manager for IBHI explained. “The question is, how do with deal with that?”

The Institute for Behavioral Health Integration, along with the Community Health Centers of Benton and Linn County have partnered to answer that question. With a joint grant from the Health Resources Services Administration, IBHI is working with the Benton and Linn County to help its four clinics integrate behavioral health into primary care.

A $236,000 grant was awarded to Benton County Health Center last August, kicking off Year 1 of a two-year grant. It will fund a number of critical activities, including the hiring of another behaviorist so the four clinics can have a dedicated behaviorist on staff.

Behaviorists are generally licensed clinical social workers or licensed psychologists, and work with patients who have behavioral problems such as depression and drug abuse or have a physical health diagnosis, such as Type 2 diabetes, and need to adopt a healthier diet and exercise regularly. Such patients are given a “warm hand-off” by their physician to a behaviorist, Brooks said.

The grant is also paying for consultants, who are considered experts in behavioral health integration, to teach clinic staff the skills and protocols for successful integration. The four behaviorists will also participate in the distance-based Certificate Program in Integrated Care offered by Fairleigh Dickenson University, which retrains behavioral health clinicians to work as members of a healthcare team.

“To successfully fulfill this (behaviorist) role requires a skill set that is quite different than the behavioral clinician who conducts hourly psychotherapy,” said Seth Bernstein, IBHI’s executive director.

To oversee and coordinate this project, Benton County Health Center formed a “Core Implementation Group” that includes the county health and Benton County Health Center directors, the four behaviorists and the managers of the clinics’ physicians and administrative staff.

“We wanted to include people across all areas that touch the patient,” Brooks noted.

Mitch Anderson, health director for Benton County, is pleased to have the IBHI team around for the next two years. “The only way to make a cultural change is over the long haul,” he said. “We want to have a seamless transition between behavioral health and specialty care. We still struggle with how to get out of our silos. It will help to have IBHI keep us true to our efforts.”

“We want Benton County Health Center to be able to sustain this program beyond the two-year grant and keep patients healthy,” Brooks said.

IBHI hopes its results can be emulated by other primary care practices in Oregon and, potentially, help practitioners in other states. “This (project) is a perfect example of what IBHI is offering private and public primary care providers throughout Oregon and across the country,” Brooks noted.



Joanne can be reached at [email protected].

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