Integrated Care Thought-Leader Series: Larry Fricks

“When you look at people holistically and start valuing their mind-body resiliency, I think there is a level of excitement, and better outcomes.”

Larry Fricks

Larry Fricks

September is Recovery Month. This year’s theme is Join the Voices for Recovery: Together on Pathways to Wellness. It is very fitting that Larry Fricks is our featured Integrated Care Thought Leader this month, as he is one of the nation’s greatest leaders in peer-led services, wellness, and recovery. An amazing individual who has devoted his life to helping others, Mr. Fricks was gracious enough to his insights into the importance of whole health wellness and resiliency and the vital role of engaging with people who have the lived-experience to provide support through the process. He offered insight into the role that a whole health approach plays in improving health outcomes and managing wellness. Drawing from his own experiences, Mr. Fricks identified many factors that contribute to a person’s recovery process. Acknowledging that factors such as race, socioeconomic status, and personal support system play a crucial role:
“I don’t think you can underestimate what social determinants do to break somebody down.”

Larry Fricks is Director of the Appalachian Consulting Group and Deputy Director of the SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions. For 13 years he served as Georgia’s Director of the Office of Consumer Relations and Recovery in the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases. A founder of the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network and Georgia’s Peer Specialist Training and Certification, he has a journalism degree from the University of Georgia and has won numerous journalism awards. He is a recipient of the American Association for World Health Award and the Lifetime Achievement Voice Award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for the development and adoption of multiple innovative, community recovery-oriented programs and services. Mr. Fricks’s recovery story and life’s work to support the recovery of others was published by HarperCollins in the New York Time’s best-selling book Strong at the Broken Places by Richard M. Cohen. (Click here for video of Mr. Fricks’s interview on the Today Show.) He is also the creator of the Whole Health Action Management (WHAM) training, a best practice model which strengthens the peer workforce’s role in healthcare delivery.

From Peer Support to Whole Health and Resiliency

I first met Mr. Fricks in 2000 in Rockford, Illinois. He was the keynote speaker at the Consumer Family Forum, addressing a group who receive behavioral health services, their families, and behavioral health professionals from across the state. His passion resonated among the 300+ attendees as he shared his personal recovery story, urging others to believe that recovery is possible. I vividly recall (and have frequently shared with others) a very moving story that he shared about an initiative that has grown to be The Gardens at Saint Elizabeths: A National Memorial of Recovered Dignity, honoring the hundreds of thousands of people who died and were buried in unmarked graves on the grounds of psychiatric hospitals…and were forgotten:

Larry Fricks: Their graves were decimated and desecrated and they have no markers and people didn’t care about maintaining their graves. They walked the Earth and they had a life. Mothers, husbands and wives, children. They had wonderful things happen, and they saw miracles, and they had heartbreak, and you’re just honoring that experience. I just really believe that the Memorial is drawing people that I never expected to draw…very inspiring.

Through the years, Mr. Fricks has traveled from state to state, providing inspiration to so many, sharing his vision, and leading the way to transforming the way behavioral health organizations provide services. He led the national initiative to include peer-led services as a core feature, and is now working with states to embed Peer Support Specialists and Family Peer Specialists in integrated healthcare efforts as well. He currently divides his time between his work with the Appalachian Consulting Group based in Georgia, and his work in Washington, DC, as Deputy Director with the SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions which has included testifying at Congressional Hearings on Mental Health.

Larry Fricks: We now know that things like a social network and service to others are huge health and resiliency factors. People who are in service to others tend to be healthier and they tend to live longer. Also they tend to be more resilient toward relapse or illness. So my life striving to be in service to others to strengthen their health and maybe strengthen their skills in recovery has had the benefit of strengthening my own recovery.

While his earlier work has focused on the role of Peer Support in the recovery process, Mr. Fricks’s work has broadened the focus to include a whole health approach. With startling reports that people with serious behavioral health conditions are dying decades earlier on average than the general population, he led a team at the SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions to create a training called Whole Health Action Management (WHAM) that is designed to address this disparity though self-management supported by peers. Mr. Fricks has great praise for the effort in Georgia to develop Peer Support, Wellness, and Respite Centers that are reducing hospitalizations.

Larry Fricks: Let me tell you about what excites me. Georgia has three of these Peer Support, Wellness, and  Respite Centers and they’re going to open two more. I’m very excited about what’s going on in those centers. Basically, if you feel early warning signs of your illness, or your addiction, you can go to one of these peer respite centers where you have your own bedroom and you can stay up to seven nights, chill out, and you’re surrounded by peers trained holistically to support your wellness. I think it’s really cutting the need for more intense crisis services and hospitalizations. So I had a chance to actually pull a shift in one of them, I answered the warm line and experienced what it was like to provide healing support by simply listening, or maybe just ask a few quetions for deeper reflection like we are trained to do. These peer support wellness centers are returning us to whole health. Removing some of the stigma, giving us a sense of owning our recovery and being proactive, and really engaging peer support to be successful. Georgia is leading the nation. With three we had more than any state, and with five we’ll really be out in front.

What’s next on the horizon?

Larry Fricks: I’m really excited about epigenetics. On April 2 of this year, Time magazine had a cover story on curing cancer, and this whole science on epigenetics basically says DNA does not have the last say. There are mind-body resiliency factors and there’s more and more research on epigenetics. “Epi” means over and the epi is the cell structure over your genome, over the DNA. And what they’re saying here is: Things that you do, like what you eat and managing stress to stay well, it determine which genes switch on and switch off. And so being aware of this thing, if you look at the WHAM training, we include ten health and resiliency factors which we got from Dr. Greg Fricchione who used to run Mrs. Carter’s Mental Health Program [at the Carter Center], and now he’s director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. These prevention doctors are big on something called the Relaxation Response, and so we’re looking at the things you can do to switch on and switch off gene markers; and they can impact the next generation.

And in parting:

I’m aware that there are just people and things that happen in your life that, if you’re open to it, you work on staying connected and having faith, your life can experience great meaning and purpose.
D
r. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “We’re all bound in a mutual destiny and I’m not all I can be until you’re all you can be, and you’re not all you can be until I’m all I can be.” We should be about connection. We should be about cooperation, and there’s a spiritual power to that, and when you’re open to it, positive things just seem to happen. And you’re inspired by it.

Sometimes you want to shake your head and say, “Oh my gosh, why don’t I have more faith?”

 

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No Margin No Mission: Sustainability in Behavioral Health – Primary Care Integration

Of the many challenges in integrating behavioral health and primary care services, the one that garners the most apprehension and concern is sustainability. It is also the most frequent reason for hesitation in moving forward. Healthcare is not set up to address this. Primary care and behavioral health have different billing codes with no easily decipherable means of venturing outside the confines to include payment for integrated services. The mere thought of the process required to begin to tear down the barriers separating the two worlds strikes fear in the hearts of the most courageous administrators.

Healthcare administrators are presented with conflicting demands and are struggling to reconcile the next step. They can:

  1. Ignore the ever increasing focus on healthcare integration and hope it is just another passing fad; or
  2. Place even more burden on the ever-shrinking budgets and hope for the best.

Let’s take a closer look at the options:

Ignoring healthcare integration seems like the easiest solution. Administrators can align themselves with like-minded peers creating a support group who reinforces the notion that it will all just fade away if they merely wait it out. This group gets considerable pleasure in observing the early adopters from a distance, filled with certainty that they are all making huge mistakes. They pat themselves on the back encouragingly as they watch their naïve peers make the occasional fumble, while attributing any successes to sheer (unsustainable) luck.

Over-burdening the current budget seems to be irresponsible. Behavioral health administrators have been faced with budget cuts in unprecedented amounts over the past few years. While they have either become masters at doing more with less or have chosen to leave the field entirely, taking on a new business-line during the increasing uncertainty of their organizations’ financial states seems to be overly risky and counterintuitive.

Yet the pressure is on.

Nationally, more and more behavioral health conferences are featuring healthcare integration tracks. The same is becoming true of primary care conferences and conventions as well. With more and more research and reports being released that provide the necessary data to support the need for integration, it’s becoming more and more difficult to write it off as a passing fad. The recent report from the SAMHSA-sponsored, National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Physical Health Conditions among Adults with Mental Illnesses provides further evidence supporting earlier reports demonstrating the need for integration.

The current model of providing behavioral healthcare may be on its way to becoming obsolete. Now is the time for behavioral healthcare administrators to begin the discussion of how to address the whole-health needs of the people they serve. Whether through collaborative partnership agreements, bi-directional integration, or full integration, this issue can no longer be ignored. There are many changes that can be implemented right away (focusing on billing codes and maximizing billing opportunities) while others will require advocating changes at the state and federal level. (Click here for helpful billing tools created by the SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions.) Daunting though this may seem, the climate is right for these discussions with your state Medicaid and behavioral health offices. They are faced with the task of making the necessary changes to move into the new era of healthcare integration. Strategically, it’s far better to be a part of discussions on creating this new structure than to have it imposed on your organizations. The Georgia Association of Community Services Boards has partnered with the Carter Center to create a forum for change in Georgia via their Integrative Healthcare Learning Collaborative. Not only have they included the public behavioral health providers and their primary care partners, they also have representation from the Georgia Primary Care Association and area medical schools.  They recognize that in order to develop sustainable programs everyone must be at the table.

What are your strategies for sustaining healthcare integration?
I’d love to hear from you. Please enter your comments/suggestions/ideas below or email: behavioralhealthintegration@gmail.com.

Let’s not lose sight of the goal: we must work together to make a difference in improving health outcomes of the people we serve. We CAN ensure that the margin is there to continue the mission. Be a part of the solution!

Behavioral Health – Primary Care Integration: Choosing a Model

Which Models Work Best?

There are several model programs for behavioral health and primary care integration in the United States that are currently demonstrating outstanding results, such as Cherokee Health Systems, Intermountain Healthcare, and Washtenaw Community Health Organization. However, to quote Dale Jarvis, of Dale Jarvis and Associates, a national consultant specializing in payment and reimbursement system redesign, financial modeling, and business systems design for healthcare purchasers and providers: “All healthcare is local.”  Behavioral health – primary care partnerships can learn much from the model programs but will need modification to meet the unique needs of their communities. A model that is successful in a rural community may not be effective in an urban setting. State regulations greatly impact the success of various models as well, especially if the model relies heavily on funding sources that may have significant differences from state to state.

The promotion of  behavioral health and primary care integration has been identified nationally as holding promise for improved health outcomes and increased efficiency in the use of healthcare dollars. The United States Department of Health and Human Services, (HHS)  is funding 56 Primary and Behavioral Healthcare Integration (PBHCI) projects in an attempt to identify effective means of integrating healthcare. HHS, in collaboration with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), seeks to answer three questions about the integration of primary and behavioral healthcare, as noted in this excerpt from the 10/21/10 SAMHSA webinar, Primary and Behavioral Healthcare Integration by Trina Dutta:

  1. Outcome Evaluation: Does the integration of primary and behavioral health care lead to improvements in the behavioral and physical health of the population with serious mental illness (SMI) and/or substance use disorders served by the grantees’ integration models?
  2. Process Evaluation: Is it possible to integrate the services provided by primary care providers and community-based behavioral health agencies (i.e., what are the different structural and clinical approaches to integration being implemented)?
  3. Model Evaluation: Which models and/or respective model features of integrated primary and behavioral health care lead to better mental and physical health outcomes?

(Contractor: RAND Corporation)

In a collaborative effort between the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) a training and technical assistance center, the Center for Integrated Health Solutions, is available for PBHCI grantees and other organizations that are integrating behavioral health and primary care services. The Center for Integrated Health Solutions is a division of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

Reducing Health Disparities Among People with Serious Mental Illness

“Psychiatrists need to pay attention to weight, lipid levels, blood pressure, and exercise in our patients with serious mental illness,” declares psychiatrist Dale Svendsen, M.D., medical director at the Ohio Department of Mental Health and co-author of the NASMHPD report. “The psychiatrist of the future is going to have to be more of a general physician than in the past, and our training programs are going to need to adapt.” In Those With Serious Mental Illness Suffer From Lack of Integrated Care, in Psychiatric News January 5, 2007, Vou. 42, No. 1, Pg. 5 Mark Moran summarizes the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) report “Morbidity and Mortality in People With Serious Mental Illness.” Emphasizing the recommendation that people with serious mental illness “be designated as a distinct health-disparities population under the federal government’s initiative to reduce disparities in health outcomes.”  Perhaps psychiatrists need to pick the stethoscope back up again…. and actually  touch their patients.

Moran goes on to look at compelling data: In a study of people (25 to 44 years old) with serious mental illness in Massachusetts over a six year period, the cardiovascular rate was nearly seven times that of the general population. In another study in Ohio, state psychiatric hospital discharges were tracked over a six year period. People who had been hospitalized there died at three times the expected rate, primarily due to cardiovascular disease. The average loss of life was a startling 32 years. The NASMHPD report drew clear connections between antipsychotic medications in the development of metabolic syndrome in people with serious mental illness, particularly when multiple medications are prescribed. Their recommendations include integration of behavioral health and physical health, promotion of  the recovery model, supporting wellness, and the implementation of care-coordination models.

In the nearly four years since this was published, there has been a marked increased in focus on the serious health disparities of this vulnerable population. The question remains whether there has been an improvement in overall health among this group. While ongoing studies must be conducted to adequately address this question, I am encouraged by the concentration on the issue. The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the Mental Health Corporation of America, Association of Healthcare Research and Quality, the Carter Center, the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association, National Institute of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admistration, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement, Collaborative Care Research Network, Health Resources and Services Administration, and a variety of other national and state associations have initiatives directed toward integration efforts. These efforts include new programs, partnerships, grants, learning collaboratives, and research. APS Healthcare of Georgia’s Disease Management division is working on an initiative with various community behavioral health organizations to create a ‘Virtual’ Medical Home. This novel approach is led by Dr. Bob Climko, Senior Medical Director. Health indicators in people with serious mental illness are monitored through telephonic health coaching and Medicaid claims data made available to providers.

It is hopeful that this increased focus will result in a significant increase in longevity for people with serious mental illness. In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “Let us recognize that there can be no health without mental health.” It would appear that the reverse is true as well: There can be no mental health without health.