Integrating Behavioral Health Care in Health Centers

Mar 4, 2014
By: Mary Wakefield Ph.D., R.N., Administrator, Health Resources and Services Administration, and Jannette Dupuy Ph.D., M.S., HRSA Bureau of Primary Health Care

America’s health centers deliver comprehensive, high-quality preventive and primary health care to millions of individuals and families regardless of their ability to pay.  Many people also seek behavioral health services in health centers because they are familiar with the setting and provider. 

Because behavioral and physical health problems are often connected, delivery of behavioral health services by health centers can reduce stereotypes and discrimination, and improve overall health outcomes. Services include:

About two-thirds of health centers provide behavioral health services in-house and others emphasize effective referrals to local behavioral health providers, including psychologists and clinical social workers.

Integrating Care Across the Country

Cherokee Health Systems in Knoxville, Tenn., is recognized as a national leader in integrating primary care and behavioral health services. It serves more than 60,000 patients a year.

Cherokee Health Systems created a national Primary Behavioral Health Integrated Care Training Academy for all interested health centers looking to provide integrated care, and worked across 31 states to advance behavioral health within health centers.

Other health centers, such as the Open Door Community Health Center in Arcata, Calif., have been recognized for their exceptional work in providing behavioral health services through the use of tele-health care (the delivery of health-related services and information via telecommunications technologies such as video link through a computer or provider/patient telephone consultation.) 

This innovation enabled the Open Door Community Health Center to provide increased access to these services, particularly in rural or underserved areas.

In New York City, the Institute for Family Health has long been committed to providing the highest quality integrated health care. Mental health providers are located, either part-time or full-time, at all of the Institute’s health centers.

In 2003, the Institute began utilizing the evidence-based Project IMPACT (Improving Mood, Promoting Access to Collaborative Treatment) model to screen for and treat depression symptoms in primary care. Since that time, the Institute has achieved and maintained one of the highest universal screening rates in the country.

Efforts like these are creating more opportunities for health centers to provide integrated primary and behavioral health services.

Expanding Behavioral Health Services

Recently, the Health Resources and Services Association issued a $50 million funding opportunity to help health centers establish or expand behavioral health services for people living with mental illness or addiction.

Health centers may use these new funds, made available through the Affordable Care Act, to hire more mental health professionals and increase mental health and substance abuse disorder services.

These funds also help accelerate current and new efforts underway to advance behavioral health care within health centers.

For more information and to find a center near you, please visit HRSA’s “Find a Health Center” tool.

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