Integrated Care Thought Leader Series: Dale Klatzker, PhD

The Times, They Are a-Changin’

When Bob Dylan wrote this iconic song, many felt that it captured the spirit of social and political upheaval of the 1960s, much in the same way that we view mental health as “a-changin’.”  And these changes require mental/behavioral health providers to change the manner in which they deliver services.

Reports over the past decade have brought attention to the current mental health crisis:

In addition, over the past few years far too many catastrophic events have brought attention to this mental health crisis, resulting in a public outcry, demanding that changes are made to prevent future tragedies.

But change isn’t easy.

The relatively brief history of community mental health services has been a challenging one. Just a few months ago, as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s signing the Community Mental Health Bill into law, the conversations quickly progressed to the subject that is on the minds of virtually all behavioral health providers—and an unusually large number of the general public and policy makers, given the historical lackluster interest in the topic—mental health is in dire need of change.

The economic downturn in the US in 2008 resulted in massive budget cuts in all but a few states. The March 2011 NAMI report, State Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis, demonstrated the cumulative cut to mental health services in the U.S. during that time was nearly $1.6 billion. Community mental health services plummeted from being barely adequate to the critical point in many states. Safety-net providers were forced to close programs due to the slashed budgets. Many of those affected ended up on the streets or in jail.

The recent announcement on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, of the planned infusion of dollars into help repair our broken mental health system, is encouraging. However, the entire mental health system is in dire need of an overhaul. One that looks at the broader healthcare picture and strategically plans for mental health and substance use disorder treatment to be included. A person-centered, whole health approach to treatment is necessary for improving the patient experience of care; improving the health of populations; and reducing the per capita cost of health care: the Triple Aim.

Dale Klatzker, PhD

Dale Klatzker, PhD

Dr. Dale Klatzker knows that, although it isn’t easy, change is vital for community behavioral health providers.

It’s exciting to be able to offer a look at integrated care from the perspective of a provider, particularly a provider who has demonstrated leadership excellence in integrating behavioral health and primary care services. Dr. Klatzker currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of The Providence Center in Providence, Rhode Island. He has been a leader in behavioral healthcare for more than 35 years. Since becoming president/CEO of The Providence Center in 2004, Dr. Klatzker, a visionary, has transformed the system of care, quality of service delivery, and social policy decision making at The Providence Center and the state of Rhode Island.  Click here for Dr. Dale Klatzker’s bio.

The Providence Center and the Providence Community Health Centers have created a successful partnership to meet the whole-health needs of the people they serve within their community; a need that is clearly outlined in the literature. According to the Robert Wood Foundation’s Mental Disorders and Medical Comorbidity authored by Dr. Benjamin Druss and Elizabeth Walker, comorbidity between medical and mental conditions is the rule rather than the exception:

In 2002, more than half of disabled Medicaid enrollees with psychiatric conditions also had claims for diabetes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), or pulmonary disease, substantially higher than rates of these illnesses among persons without psychiatric conditions. The authors conclude that the high prevalence of psychiatric diagnoses among people with chronic medical conditions should be an impetus for prioritizing the improved integration of behavioral and medical care.

What advice do you have for healthcare leaders?

Dr. Klatzker:  Change is a good thing. Most CMHCs haven’t changed a lot. They haven’t prepared themselves to change a lot and have marginalized themselves and the people that they serve by not being more a part of the mainstream. We have sets of skills that are integral to wellness and to health across a wide spectrum. We need to be proud of what we do, but also to expand it and extend it because this is the perfect time for this. We have a lot of things to offer that others are trying to replicate.

Things don’t stay static. You have to look though the windshield but also through the rear-view mirror. You have to know where you are but you also have to know where you’re going.

As executive director/CEO of a behavioral health organization, you have the obligation to push yourself, and that will push your organization, to do what is necessary so that your mission is reinforced but also to serve the needs of the community. It’s hard to do that if you’re doing the same thing you did 20 years ago. We do our consumers a disservice if we do that.

Person-centered approach to care

Dr. Klatzker: What we’ve embraced here – what’s part of the DNA of the organization at The Providence Center – we  believe in a person-centered approach to care. No two people are exactly the same. The people that we work for deserve as much access to a wide array of both health and social supports as anyone. That’s how you have to guide yourself. When you’re thinking of those things, primary care integration, working much more toward the mainstream of traditional healthcare is imperative for us.(7:14)

What we’ve found is, if you can build those relationships and find the right connections, then others will embrace you and value you for what you bring to the table. In fact, we bring a lot. Partnership is always the first choice, the default.

We don’t chase dollars, we don’t create programs because it’s the idea du jour from some funder somewhere, we consciously look on our mission as our touchstone and build upon that to provide as much choice to the people we serve. We can be very person-centered because there aren’t many gaps in what we’re providing. (They provide a wider array of services than the average CMHC) We’ve consciously built out a wide array because we think it’s the right thing to do. Rather than to take a “no,” if we can’t partner, we build.

Example of a successful integrated care partnership

Dr. Klatzker: The Providence Center is closely connected to one the largest federally qualified health center in the state of Rhode Island, the Providence Community Health Center. We have become the largest community mental health center. Neither had a desire to replicate the services that the other provided. Over the years we’ve built this into a “no wrong door” integrated collaborative effort so that in the mental health center, the FQHC runs a full-service practice with 1100-1200 patients. In the FQHC, we are integrated in their physician practices building and we also have a separate section of their building where we provide longer term care and some other types of specialty care. We’ve integrated our records with each other. We meet frequently to process and to try to figure out how to make our care efficient and effective. We are working closely with them now on adopting our health home model to integrate a modified health home into the FQHC.

Yes, the times they are a-changin’. And so are healthcare providers. (At least the forward-thinking providers like The Providence Center.) They are heeding the findings from the numerous expert reports and research. They are thinking outside the box, adopting a person-centered approach that enables better outcomes for the many who place their trust in them—trusting them to take care of their whole-health needs.

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Behavioral Health Integration 2013 in Review

2013 has been a very good year for Behavioral Health Integration Blog! Our popular Integrated Care Thought Leader Series began this year, providing insights into the minds of some of the most prominent thought leaders in integrated care, including Dr. Alexander “Sandy” Blount, Dr. Benjamin Druss, Larry Fricks, and Dr. Benjamin Miller. Stay tuned in 2014! We have several excellent integrated care thought leaders lined up, to provide their expert perspectives on whole health and integrating behavioral health and primary care for enhancing health outcomes, reducing healthcare costs, and improving access to healthcare.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,800 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Integrated Care Thought Leader Series: Benjamin Druss, MD, MHP

“That’s the next direction that [organizations] need to go, bringing substance abuse back into the discussion. We need to go past just the integration of primary care and mental health care to a more Whole Person Care.”

Benjamin Druss, MD, MHP

Benjamin Druss, MD, MHP

It has been my pleasure to talk with Dr. Benjamin Druss for this edition of the Integrated Care Thought Leader Series. Having had the privilege to work with Dr. Druss on various integrated care projects over the past few years, I have come to respect not only his keen insight into what’s needed beyond the horizon for the care of people with behavioral health disorders, but the compassion and dedication he brings. His humility and brilliance are evident upon introduction; he’s a true visionary. Dr. Druss, my mentor and my friend, has provided inspiration to me in my work and outlook on the world of healthcare, integration, and beyond.

Dr. Druss, world-renown researcher in health policy, has made a significant contribution to healthcare and the integration of behavioral health and physical health. He has impacted the lives of many individuals as a result. As the first Rosalynn Carter Chair in Mental Health, Dr. Druss is working to build linkages between mental health, general medical health, and public health. He works closely with Carter Center Mental Health Program, where he is a member of the Mental Health Task Force and Journalism Task Force. He has been a member of two Institute of Medicine Committees, and has served as an expert consultant to government agencies including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. He serves as professor at Rollins School of Health Policy and Management at Emory University.

Dr. Druss’s research focuses on improving physical health and healthcare among persons with serious mental disorders. He has published more than 100 peer‐reviewed articles on this and related topics, including the first randomized trial of an intervention to improve medical care in this population in 2001. His research is funded by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research, and he serves as a standing member of an NIMH study section. He has received a number of national awards for his work.

Dr. Druss, Dr. Silke von Esenwein, and their colleagues at Emory University are currently conducting an exciting NIMH research trial, The Health Outcomes Management and Evaluation (HOME) Study. As described on the website clinicaltrials.gov: There is an urgent need to develop practical, sustainable approaches to improving medical care for persons treated in community mental health settings, this study will test a novel approach for improving mental health consumers based on a partnership model between a Community Mental Health Center and a Community Health Center. When this study is completed, it will provide a model for a medical home for persons with severe mental illness that is clinically robust, and organizationally and financially sustainable.

Dr. Druss received his bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College in 1985, earned his medical degree from New York University in 1989 and later his master’s in public health from Yale University in 1995.He is also board certified in psychiatry. He trained as a resident in general internal medicine at Rhode Island Hospital and in psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine. Click here for more information about Dr. Benjamin Druss

Advancement in integrated care through the years

Dr. Druss was one of the first to address the physical health concerns among people with serious mental illness and substance use disorders, particularly among the public sector populations in urban regions. During our discussion on integrated care, he addressed areas of change over the past 18 years that has had the greatest impact on the advancement of healthcare for people with serious mental illness. He described the world of Health Information Technology as a frontier that, over the past 10 years, has resulted in changing policies and procedures in healthcare. These changes have had significant impact on the ability for healthcare organizations to share information, resulting in improved care for patients.

Dr. Druss advises that the next stage needed for healthcare is to begin “broadly looking at other social determinants of health.” The focus should be on an approach to healthcare that is person-centered. The concept of addressing population health and creating a system of care will be a more effective approach to improving health outcomes moving forward. He recommends that substance abuse must be brought back into the discussion, and to go past just the concept of integration of physical health and mental health, toward a more “whole person care” approach.

What do you foresee for the field as we move forward?

Dr. Druss:  Clearly there’s going to be major changes in how care is delivered. I think there’s a lot of opportunity moving forward with new public sector models, Medicaid, patients with medical homes, and also the promise of new technologies moving forward as well.

I’m very optimistic; I think things will certainly be very different five years from now. We’re in a period where things are evolving very quickly and we don’t know exactly what the world will look like, but I think we can say that things will look different—and that things will look better.

Research has to change as well. I’m mostly a researcher and lot of what we’ve been doing is slow-paced. The slow-paced process by which we develop a model, and then test it over a five year period. You apply for a grant and then you test it for five years, then it’s another two years before it’s published. So we’re going to have to be looking for more ways for understanding data and evaluating programs. I think the new technologies will help, their more wide-spread availability will help. Just as the health system needs to change—and is changing—health research is going to need to change as well.

The funding agencies still are gradually coming to that point. NIMH has a new program that they are looking to fund that looks at natural experiments out in the community. So I think that’s the sort of research that we’re going to need to see more of in the coming years—good, careful, thoughtful evaluations of some of the demonstration projects going on out in the community.

What barriers to integration to you currently see?

Dr. Druss:  I’d say that a lot of community mental health centers are still on this part of the learning curve in terms of learning about integration, such as how potential partner organizations work, [such as] Federally Qualified Health Centers. [CMHC’s] often lack information technology infrastructure that makes it easier to do the work. There are some places, some community clinics, and other organizations that are out in front on these issues, that are early adopters, and there’s some that are trying to figure it out and hopefully will learn from the experience of those organizations that are further ahead.

Thank you, Dr. Druss, for your dedication to improving the health and quality of life of so many who live with serious behavioral health conditions.

Be sure to check back soon for our next Thought Leader, Larry Fricks, pioneer in the Peer Support movement.

A sampling of Dr. Druss’s cutting-edge research and other publications are listed below:

The Health Recovery Peer (HARP) Program: A Peer-Led Intervention to Improve Medical Self-Management for Persons with Serious Mental Illness
Benjamin G. Druss, Liping Zhao, Silke A. von Esenwein, Larry Fricks, Sherry Jenkins-Tucker, E. Sterling, R. Diclemente, K. Lorig

Behavioral Health Homes for People with Mental Health & Substance Use Conditions: Core Clinical Features
Laurie Alexander, PhD, Alexander Behavioral Healthcare Consulting, and Benjamin Druss, MD, MPH, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University authored this document for the SAMHSA-HRSA Center For Integrated Health Solutions

A Randomized Trial of Medical Care Management for Community Mental Health Settings: The Primary Care Access, Referral, and Evalution (PCARE) Study
Benjamin G. Druss, M.D., M.P.H.. Silke A. von Esenwein, Ph.D. Michael T. Compton, M.D.,. M.P.H.. Kimberly J. Rask, M.D., Ph.D. Liping Zhao, M.S.P.H.. Ruth M. Parker, MD

Budget Impact and Sustainability of Medical Care Management for Persons With Serious Mental Illnesses
Benjamin G. Druss, M.D., M.P.H., Silke A. von Esenwein, Ph.D., Michael T. Compton, M.D., M.P.H., Liping Zhao, M.S.P.H., Douglas L. Leslie, Ph.D

Understanding excess mortality in persons with mental illness: 17-year follow up of a nationally representative US survey
Druss BG, Zhao L, Von Esenwein S, Morrato EH, Marcus SC.

Mental Disorders and Medical Comorbidity
Goodall S, Druss BG, and Walker ER

Understanding Disability in Mental and General Medical Conditions 2000
Druss BG, Marcus SC, Rosenheck RA, Olfson M, Tanielian T, Pincus, HA

Integrated Medical Care for Patients With Serious Psychiatric Illness 2001
Druss BG, Rohrbaugh RM, Levinson CM, Rosenheck RA

Mind and Body Reunited: Improving Care at the Behavioral and Primary Healthcare Interface publication 2007
Mauer BJ and Druss BG

Mental disorders and medical comorbidity publication 2011
Druss, BG and Walker ER

Research Projects:

Co-Principal Investigator, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Funding Period 9/1/96-1/31/98
“Chronic Illness, Disability, and Managed Care”

Principal Investigator, National Association for Research in Schizophrenia and Affective Disorders (NARSAD); Funding period July 1, 1996 – June 30, 1998
“Work and Health Care Costs associated with Depression Compared with Chronic General Medical Illnesses”

Principal Investigator, Donaghue Medical Research Foundation; Funding period July 1, 1996-Decmeber 31, 1999
“Costs of Depression for an Employed Population”

Principal Investigator, NARSAD; Funding Period July 1999-June 2001
“Treatment of Depression and Medical Illness Under Managed Care: Understanding the Differences”

Principal Investigator, NIMH K08 Mentored Clinical Scientist Award; Funding Period January 1999-December 2004
“Impact of Depressive Disorders in Health and Work Settings”

Principal Investigator, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Funding Period October 1, 2004-September 30, 2006
“Evidence-Based Management of Depression in Public-Sector Primary Care”

Principal Investigator: R34MH78583; Funding Period September 1, 2006-August 1, 2010
“Adapting a Medical Self-Management Program for a Community Mental Health Center”

Principal Investigator: K24MH075867; Funding period July 2006-June 2011
“Mending the Safety Net: Improving Linkages between CHCs and CMHCs”

Principal Investigator, AHRQ R18; Funding Period September 2008-September 2012
“An Electronic Personal Health Record for Mental Health Consumers”

Principal Investigator R21HS017649; Funding Period August 1st 2008-April 2010
“Mental Comorbidity and Chronic Illness in the National Medicaid System”

Principal Investigator, NIMH R01; Funding period August 2004-April 2014
“Improving Primary Care for Patients with Mental Disorders”

Principal Investigator NIMH MH090584-01A1; Funding Period 06/15/2011- 03/31/16
“A peer-led, medical disease self-management program for mental health consumers”

Integrated Care Thought Leader Series: Alexander “Sandy” Blount, EdD

“It’s very hard to do integrated care and still think of mental health and physical health.”

Welcome to the first in the Integrated Care Thought Leader Series. This series will focus on the forward-thinking individuals who have had the foresight to envision possibilities in the healthcare industry’s future. I’m pleased to begin the series with a man who has been instrumental in advancing integrated healthcare.

Alexander Blount, EdD

Alexander Blount, EdD, better known to most as “Sandy,” has played a very important role in bringing the integration of behavioral health and primary healthcare to its current prominent focus within the healthcare industry. Dr. Blount is credited with coining the term integrated primary care in his 1994 publication, “Toward a System of Integrated Primary Care,” Blount A, Bayona J. Family Systems Medicine, 1994;12:171-182.

He currently serves as Professor of Clinical Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA and Director of Behavioral Science in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.  He teaches resident physicians the psychosocial skills of primary care practice and founded the post-doctoral Fellowship in Clinical Health Psychology in Primary Care.  He was previously Director of the Family Center of the Berkshires in Pittsfield, MA and a faculty member at the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York. He has more than thirty-seven years experience as a therapist, teacher of physicians and therapists, administrator and lecturer in the US and abroad.  He is a member of the National Integration Academy Council and has had a leadership role in state and national efforts developing healthcare policy.  His books include Integrated Primary Care: The Future of Medical and Mental Health Collaboration published by W. W. Norton and Knowledge Acquisition, written with James Brule’, published by McGraw-Hill.  Click here for more information about Dr. Blount.

It’s an honor to talk with Dr. Blount about the integration of behavioral health and primary care. Yes, he admits that he is optimistic about the direction in which the field is moving! His enthusiasm is almost palpable, with a freshness that belies the number of years he has devoted to the advancement of this revolutionary approach to healthcare. It’s apparent that this enthusiasm easily holds the attention of the students he teaches at UMASS.

Dr. Blount is a visionary whose diligent efforts and perseverance have made great strides toward bringing attention to the widespread failure to address the individual patient as a whole. He graciously agreed to provide insights for Behavioral Health Integration Blog:

What do you see as being the greatest barriers for successful integration of behavioral health and primary care services?

Dr. BlountI see two things:

First are the barriers that have always been there: regulatory barriers that are built on the idea that mental health and medical services have to be kept separate, financial barriers that only pay fee for service and define services as what is delivered in specialty mental health, and cultural barriers on the part of both medical and mental health people that make working together difficult without some cultural broker who can make the connections and translations necessary.  These have been our problems historically, and happily with the ACA and the PCMH movement, these are reducing.

The second area is the barriers caused by our own success.  Because integrated care is becoming more possible and is proving itself, there is pressure to start programs in settings where there is little understanding of what it entails and little time and resources to prepare for the change.  People are getting put into integrated programs or co-located, who aren’t trained for it and didn’t pick it. They don’t know what to do. They go in and do specialty mental health. They do what they’ve been trained to do…and it doesn’t work. Then administrators, who may have been skeptical initially, thought this was a fad, see this failure and think “oh yeah, I was right,” it was more inconvenient than useful. We felt we had to develop a training program at UMass Medical School available to these folks to prevent just this form of failure.

Also because there is sometimes a faddishness about integration, you get some administrators who become “true believers” who really don’t know how to do this. They see a presentation,  and they say this is what we are going to do–and they start it without any depth of understanding. It’s sort of the administrative version of the clinician that doesn’t work. We need clinicians who are fully oriented to integrated primary care and leaders who are aware of the difficulties of making these changes and who can develop the buy-in from the whole practice. Integrated pilot programs are often funded on three year cycles.  Places like the DIAMOND Project in Minnesota, where they’ve had some real time to make it work, say that it’s more like a five year cycle from beginning to fully transformed practice.  I fear that federal and private funders will think it will happen faster than it does and will turn away.

Another barrier to our success is the workforce crisis we are facing.  All of the government projections of what will be needed for behavioral health workforce, when compared to the number of people who are being trained, say we will have a terrible deficit, and those projections were made without any calculation of the workforce that has proved to be needed in mature integrated settings.  When word gets out that we will need a four-fold increase over 2010 levels in behavioral health clinicians in Federally Qualified Health Centers alone, not to mention the rest of the health system, the true magnitude of the problem will become clearer.

What excites you about the field today?

Dr. Blount: One, is absolutely the transition in payment models that may make a great leap forward happen. Essentially those models let us implement the clinical routines of integrated care. Up to now the payment models have dictated routines that weren’t very integrated.  Paying for health, rather than for services allows us to deliver evidence based care by the clinician best able to do it at the point that it is most sensible and acceptable to the patient.   Having it actually knitted into the flow of care makes a big difference.

And the other thing that I see happening is a transformation in how we conceptualize mind and body, illness and health.   It’s very hard to do integrated care and still think of “mental health” and “physical health”. The categories just begin to break down because they don’t describe the way people present. They don’t describe how problems form over the years. We’ve had science now for a good while on the plasticity of brain and the way that experience changes the brain and the brain changes experience. The current science even describes the way that experience changes what genes are expressed at various points in a person’s development.  In other words, the science of the brain has been there but the way of thinking in our day-to-day clinical lives has not because we have been enacting models build on conceptions of separate domains.  As we enact integrated clinical routines, we will begin to think differently.  We create the likelihood that the science of the brain will be mirrored in the unity of our conceptions about people and how we try to help them.

So I think, at least in the places that are more developed, the places that integrated care gets to be mature, you begin to see different forms of conceptualization and hopefully we’ll be documenting those, writing about those, helping to pull others along. There aren’t many places where integrated care is really mature. The places that are mature are very different in numerous ways that don’t initially seem to be connected to integration. The question of “isn’t integration interesting, how do we work on it?” just goes away and the questions are about new ways of helping patients, new groups of patients we can understand better, and new ways of involving patients on their care teams.  How we involve people in their own care, how we get past the doctor as leader and authority to doctor and the team as teachers and facilitators, that’s really the next piece. And when that is going well, I think that integrated care will sort of already be there.

Will you look into your crystal ball for us and tell us what you foresee in the future for integration?

Dr. BlountLet’s imagine that we get it right in terms of mature programming, mature routines of integration as far as our workforce allows.  Then we begin to be able to think about health and illness differently, and the whole set of concepts, the models that we have of understanding health and illness and how to influence those begin to move. I foresee the time when there’s a foundation of mature integrated care that we will be looking at great leaps forward in theory or great research leaps forward with greater understanding of what and how we should be researching. That’s one optimistic thing.

And when I look in my crystal ball I think we are going to have states that begin to have whole-state programs that are starting to be implemented and organized so that we can begin to look at the impact of integration on a really big scale.

Thanks so much to Dr. Blount for sharing his insights in the premiere of the Integrated Care Thought Leader series!

Check back soon for a conversation on integrated care with Benjamin Druss, MD, MPH, Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Chair and Department of Health Policy and Management Professor at Emory University.

For Better or for Worse: Honoring the Partnership in Behavioral Health and Primary Care Integration

“I now pronounce you…Integrated.”

The early days of the integrated healthcare relationship are typically idyllic, filled with smiles and hopes and dreams. Oh, if we could only maintain that blissful state forever…

Unfortunately relationships don’t maintain a static pattern but are interspersed with disruptions on occasion (or frequently). When these disturbances intervene, the blissful state is challenged.

These are the times that try administrators’ souls.

For a partnership to persevere the inevitable challenges, the basic foundation must be solid.  Just as skyscrapers are built with deep foundations that are not only solid but allow flexibility to prevent collapse when severe environmental or other hazardous conditions erupt, the integrated partnership requires a carefully developed, yet flexible foundation. With a firm core, the relationship has the elements in place to withstand challenges that are sure to occur. (Click here for more information on building a successful behavioral health – primary care partnership.)

Sustainability Planning

Sustainability plans are often synonymous with financial sustainability but will occasionally focus on health information technology in the planning as well. The partnership itself, however, is often overlooked in the sustainability plan. This is unfortunate because if the partnership fails, the plan is rendered moot. The actual partnership itself is taken for granted after the initial honeymoon phase. This is a grave mistake for true sustainability.

Consider this scenario:
Due to internal operational and fiscal needs, the behavioral health partner’s executive team has decided to reassign the integrated BH counselor who has been working in the primary care clinic for two years. The counselor will be replaced with another counselor who is more experienced and is credentialed in both mental health and substance use disorders. Seeing this rearrangement as a win-win, the behavioral health partner is shocked and confused when they hear that the primary care partner, in reaction to this news, is considering hiring their own counselor instead of accepting the replacement counselor. There are even rumors that they might pull out of the partnership.

What went wrong?

  1. The behavioral health partner failed to include the primary care partner in the discussion, thus failing to honor the relationship; the primary care partner felt disrespected.
  2. Rather than express concern to the behavioral health partner, the primary care partner took a reactionary approach instead.
  3. Unaware of behavioral health partner’s internal issues, the primary care partner assumed the worst.
  4. The behavioral health partner failed to understand the value of the individual to the team, not just for the service provided. Counselors are not interchangeable. The counselor was viewed as a valued member of the primary care team.
  5. The executive teams of the partners stopped communicating after the partnership was launched, resulting in a weakening of the committment by each partner.

The list could go on.

This partnership, though financially sound, has neglected to nurture the core relationship. As long as things were going smoothly, the partnership appeared to be successful. Unfortunately, a slight disruption to the routine has threatened the weak core of the partnership. In addition to the obvious lack of effective communication taking place in this dysfunctional relationship, there are other factors also present that are all too common in partnerships:

  • Lack of commitment
  • Lack of respect

Commitment and respect underscore the core requirements for longevity.

Commitment

All partners must be committed to ensuring that integration efforts have the necessary tools for success. This includes the committment of time, not just financial and other resources. When the commitment is present, there is no concern over “fair weather friends” syndrome.

  • Are you prepared to make sacrifices necessary for success?
  • When the going gets tough are you still committed?

Respect

Basic respect is crucial. Your partner has many challenges and concerns that are unrelated to your partnership. Respecting that these are important to your partner whether or not you can fully recognize the impact goes a long way toward being a good partner. Taking the time to gain a better understanding is even better.

  • Do you have a thorough understanding of your partner’s business model?
  • Do you understand the challenges that your partner faces specific to the specialty such as regulatory, operational, clinical, etc.?

Why are these things important?

Understanding and honoring the things that are important to your partner organization strengthens the core of your relationship. Remember, the Golden Rule applies to behavioral health and primary care integration partnerships, too.

COMPROMISE: The Third Key Component of a Successful Behavioral Health – Primary Care Marriage

I shall argue that strong men, conversely, know when to compromise and that all principles can be compromised to serve a greater principle.
Andrew Carnegie

It isn’t easy to bring a behavioral health organization and a primary care organization together for the creation of an integrated partnership, despite the reason–altruistic or otherwise. When partners fail to provide adequate attention to open and effective communication, the excitement of early marriage can wane; the relationship may become troubled, requiring mediation. When misunderstandings occur and tempers flare, it’s time for an intervention to get the partnership back on track.

Marital Counseling

As with any relationship, compromise is a necessary element in the behavioral health – primary care partnership. After the honeymoon phase, the partnership enters a crucial period in which its future is determined by the ability of the partners to negotiate the (sometimes rocky) path ahead. Differences between the two entities become more apparent as pressure mounts via the divergent audits, budgets, various regulatory requirements, etc. Furthermore, what are the partners to do when they encounter conflicting requirements? Marital counseling may be in order at this point. In other words, it’s time for the partners to take a time-out and take an honest and open appraisal.

Developing shared solutions are important for strengthening the bond. The partners must approach all dilemmas together as a team. Each has a vested interest; negotiating solutions will strengthen that bond.

Wise leaders recognize that trust is not automatically bestowed.  Members of the teams need time and patience for trust to develop. By bringing together members from each team who share similar roles and encouraging ongoing, regular interaction, trust begins to develop within the partnership. Remember that trust cannot be rushed but will grow into a strong foundation  throughout the partnering organizations if nurtured.

Empowering the team provides the opportunity for everyone to develop a sense of ownership for successful outcomes. Empowered employs who feel that they play an important role in the organization and who feel valued by management have a greater sense of commitment to the organization. Allow team members the ability to make decisions rather than having every movement scripted. When the receptionist is empowered to work-in an emergency patient without having to gain approval for every occurrence, amazing things begin to happen:  The receptionist feels like a valued member of the team, the patient benefits from the responsiveness, and the other members of the team benefit from the smooth workflow. In marriage, each partner has a responsibility for doing his/her part to ensure equilibrium. The same is true between and within the partnership.

Determine Expectations

Mentioning expectations at this point might seem unnecessary. After all, the behavioral health and primary care organization have formed the partnership for the distinct purpose of providing healthcare integration. It’s a very clear expectation and doesn’t require discussion.

Or does it?

Just as a couple contemplating marriage might wrongly assume that each has the same idea of what their marriage will be like (one partner daydreams about a trendy loft in the city while the other longs for a house with a massive lawn in the suburbs), the integrated healthcare partnership can fall into the same trap of flawed thinking. Don’t assume!

The chances for happily ever after increase exponentially when time and effort are committed for open discussions about expectations for the partnership. Both partners must be willing to compromise on expectations when they are incongruent.

                                                                                                     

And don’t forget: People with serious mental illness are dying while we try to figure this out!

COMMUNICATION: The Second Key Component of a Successful Behavioral Health – Primary Care Marriage

The next key component of a successful Behavioral Health – Primary Care Marriage focuses on Communication.

Early Phase: THE HONEYMOON

In the early days of the partnership, the Honeymoon phase, there is a distinct tendency toward assuming that both partners are speaking the same language and are working toward the same goals. The excitement of the new endeavor and the synergy created initially helps to move things along at a rapid pace. When the behavioral health partner talks about workflow and scheduling appointments, there is little thought given to the fact that these two concepts have VERY different meanings for the primary care provider. It is important to have a thorough review of operations from both perspectives and to find a viable middle-ground that both partners find acceptable. Making open, frequent communication a priority from the onset will prevent problems later on.  This should include a thorough overview of each organization’s regulatory, financial, and operational processes as well as overall mission. Don’t assume that the two partners really understand how each other’s organization functions.

Problems within the Partnership (AKA THE HONEYMOON IS OVER!)

If the partners neglect to develop an open culture of communication on the front end, it is likely that miscommunication will develop.

The Honeymoon phase is in jeopardy.

The entrepreneurial partner fails to understand the ongoing delays from the partner with the extensive bureaucratic approval process that prevents a quick turnaround of virtually everything. As misunderstandings develop into disappointments and resentments, the previous harmony is disrupted.

The Honeymoon is over.

Internal conflicts must be addressed immediately with candor. This is a good time to have an open conversation about all the aforementioned points and develop a plan for ongoing, frequent communication. Concerns about the great divide over productivity targets, outcome measures, and caseloads must be openly discussed, among other important points of contention.

By devoting the necessary focus on the importance of Communication, the partnership will successfully transition to the third key component for a successful behavioral health – primary care marriage, Compromise. The shared mission to reduce health disparities for the individuals served who suffer from comorbid behavioral health and medical conditions will persevere.

However, failure to make this transition may very well land this promising partnership into divorce court.