Behavioral health rises to top of WDH's 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment
In addition to continuing the current Community Benefit Programs - Care Van, Charity Care, Medication Assistance and the Community Dental Center - the Wentworth-Douglass Hospital Board of Trustees approved funding to expand behavioral health services, the number one community need identified in its 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment.
Two behavioral health services will be funded beginning in 2014.The first will expand behavioral health services in the Wentworth-Douglass Health System’s primary care practices within Wentworth Health Partners (WHP). Currently one, part-time behavioral health counselor supports the WHP’s internal medicine practices. The expansion will increase hours to provide two, full-time counselor positions for all primary care practices including family care practices. WHP will be collaborating with Great Bay Mental Health Services and Goodwin Community Health to provide these services.
According to Nancy Pettinari, MD, Director of Wentworth Health Partners and Internal Medicine specialist, the community’s need to expand these services validates a pilot project WHP began earlier this year in three practices. “The Board’s approval to expand behavior health services is great news,” Dr. Pettinari said. "The program that we started earlier this year has been very successful. We are now able to address both the physical and behavioral health needs of our patients in the same setting. This approach has been well received by our patients who are very reassured by the integrated management of their care."
The second service will add a full-time psychiatric case worker or similarly trained individual to provide case management of behavioral health patients waiting for long periods in the Emergency Department for evaluation and placement/treatment. This position, through a collaboration with Community Partners, will help patients being held longer than 24 hours in the Emergency Department, to receive appropriate services and avoid involuntary placement, if possible, by connecting the patients to community resources including the behavioral health counselors in WHP’s practices. This unique role is expected to help reduce the number of days spent in the Emergency, prevent readmissions and improve patient care.
Each of these programs is a move forward in reducing the lack of services and stigma of mental health/behavior health while improving overall patient care in the community. “Clearly we realize the issues of behavior health are more far reaching than these programs may address,” Dr. Pettinari added, “but this is a huge step in the right direction.”
Five focus groups, conducted over the summer, engaged consumers, providers and key community leaders from local government, schools and social service agencies representing low income, uninsured adults and children. Four of the groups were from geographic areas including Dover, Somersworth, Rollinsford, Durham, Barrington, Madbury, Lee, Berwick and South Berwick, Maine. A fifth group included physicians, nurses, social workers and mental health providers. Other needs focused on transportation, access to primary care and health education.