In May, the Rhode Island Foundation awarded $2.6 million in grants to six non-profit organizations to fund behavioral health care services in the state.
According to Jenny Pereira, vice president of the grant program at the R.I. Foundation, behavioral health is a high priority. In August 2018, the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner created the Behavioral Health Fund with funding from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island. The latter has committed to providing $5 million in funding.
Overall, their focus is on preventing behavioral health problems before they arise, and identifying conditions or concerns in their earliest stages, Pereira said.
“The goal is to address behavioral health needs before people are in crisis,” she said.
The R.I. Foundation, she said, wanted to pick organizations that provide diverse service models to diverse populations—organizations “we can really learn from.” The recipients were chosen by an advisory committee, comprising seven members representing the R.I. Foundation, behavioral health care providers, health insurers, and policymakers.
One of the recipients, Clínica Esperanza, will use the funding to create Vida Pura, a program that addresses alcohol use and other mental health issues in low-income, uninsured Hispanic immigrants.
Katie Barry, Sc.B, a project manager at the clinic, noted that “alcohol abuse is the main manifestation of mental illness and post-traumatic stress in our population.”
The program will include weekly classes that focus on reducing alcohol use and building healthier habits, sessions with a psychologist or psychiatrist, and specialized support groups, Barry said.
The clinic will be screening patients and community members at outreach events with the AC-OK Screen for Co-Occurring Disorders.
Barry emphasized that the clinic is committed to providing culturally appropriate resources. For instance, the primary language of the clinic is Spanish. Many of the services, including the classes, are provided by Navegantes, trained health workers who come from the same communities and backgrounds and know how to broach sensitive subjects without triggering stigma or shame, Barry said.
Another recipient, the Collaborative Care Transformation Collaborative of Rhode Island (CTC-RI), is testing an Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) service delivery program at eight pediatric practices to enhance the identification and treatment of behavioral health issues.
Only 20 percent of children with mental illness get help, said Liz Cantor, Ph.D, a child clinical psychologist and IBH practice facilitator at CTC. However, “90 percent see their pediatrician at least once a year. This is an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up.”
Specifically, each pediatric practice will administer validated screening tools to kids, teens, and new moms (e.g., Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale). If patients screen positively, they’ll either briefly meet the IBH clinician or have a short session right then.
Cantor said it’s not unusual for patients to wait three months for counseling services. IBH clinicians can provide brief services while they wait. For example, a clinician can teach parents behavioral strategies for their oppositional four-year-old, she said.
They can help a teen with mild anxiety for three to five sessions, or a child who can’t tolerate his or her diabetes regimen, Cantor noted.
CTC has already successfully implemented a three-year pilot program at adult primary care practices.
“We found that doctors were super happy to have a behavioral health clinician, and patients were getting better care,” said Debra Hurwitz, MBA, BSN, RN, executive director at CTC. Plus, “healthcare costs reduced significantly,” because patients weren’t going to the hospital for services, she said.
Of the other recipients, the Rhode Island Association for Infant Mental Health will train professionals who serve infants, young children, and their families. The Coventry Public School District will train educators, staff, and first responders to identify early mental health needs in kids and teens.
Also, The Rhode Island College will develop and deliver screening and treatment services for the state’s most underserved populations. The Center for Evidence-Based Practice at Bradley Hospital will partner with the Village for Rhode Island Foster and Adoptive Families and the Institute on Stress, Trauma, and Resilience at Brown University to provide child behavior management training and parenting support to foster families.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS, is a Florida-based freelance writer and an associate editor at PsychCentral.com.