behavioral health integration

Behavioral Health – Primary Care Integration: Establishing the Mission of the Partnership

Community behavioral health organizations and Federally Qualified Health Centers (primary care organizations) are very mission driven.  There are numerous similarities between the two.  Each is focused on healthcare, serves as safety net provider, and serves people who are uninsured or underinsured. However there are differences as well, as you might expect.  Behavioral health organizations employ psychiatrists, psychiatric extenders, psychiatric nurses, psychologists, counselors, and social workers, and focus primarily on the recovery model. While primary care organizations employ family practitioners, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, medical assistants, nurses, certified nursing assistants, and focus primarily on the medical model. Very different philosophies and cultures. Therefore, it is vital to pay close attention to the partnership when developing a behavioral health – primary care integration partnership. Too often partnerships between the two stumble or perhaps even fail because of neglecting to address some key differences.  As discussed in the last post, for a successful behavioral health – primary care partnership, it is imperative to focus on building the relationship from the onset.  We will explore the steps that were adapted from “Strategies to Preserve Public-Private Partnership ‘Best Practices’: Keys to Genuine Collaboration” by Greg Schmieg and Bob Climko, MD, Behavioral Health Management May/June 1998. Vol. 18 . No. 3, in this and future posts.


Shared Vision

Each organization comes to the partnership with its own mission. It is a mistake to assume that the two separate missions are adequate to drive the partnership to success. It is vital for both organizations to sit down together and create a shared vision for the partnership. This will likely require a merging of goals into a partnership mission statement, comprised of elements in which each partner finds value. The mission statement serves as an anchor and roadmap for the partnership, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and heading in the same direction. This process should not be rushed, allowing time for the expectations of each partner to be explored so that the mission of the partnership can be negotiated. Best results occur when input is obtained from the various stakeholders at all levels. A statement that is meaningful to everyone is most effective. It should be clear, concise, and easily understood.


Once the mission of the partnership has been determined, it is important to communicate it widely and often. This helps to clarify the mission and keep everyone on track.  It must be communicated with everyone involved in the partnership. Employees at all levels within the partner organizations are vital for success. This includes respectfully taking the time to listen to suggestions, comments, and complaints from all levels, responding accordingly. Touching base with everyone on a regular basis, trouble-shooting, providing feedback, and reassurance assures open communication and greatly increases buy in.

Frontline Champions

The success of the partnership’s mission will depend on frontline champions. In a behavioral health – primary care partnership, the frontline champion might be a nurse, an office manager, a clerk, etc. They need to be identified and empowered from the onset. Your champions provide the energy to motivate the other team members. Rest assured, your project will not succeed without these vital members of the team, serving as cheerleader and providing the enthusiasm and energy necessary to infiltrate the attitudes of the skeptics. The frontline champions help to give substance to the mission, allowing others to gradually begin to see it as well.

Establishing the mission of the partnership is a fun process that begins with two disparate organizations and along the way, creates another unique entity. This third entity is more than mere subsets of the two organizations joined together. It is a new creation with distinctive elements. It is greater than the sum of its parts: It is an Integrated Partnership.

Next time we will explore the importance of identifying a common language for our newly created integrated partnership.


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