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Grant funds joint effort to make Delta County healthier

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Delta County is in the unique position of being tasked with developing a model that will show other rural communities how behavioral health can be integrated into the primary care setting.

A $600,000 grant was awarded to a consortium comprised of All American Families (dba Families Plus), Stoney Mesa Family Practice and Delta County Memorial Hospital.

The purpose of the grant is to address the fragmentation and scarcity of health care in rural areas with improved systems of delivery that integrate behavioral and physical health care.

Dr. Brenda Holland, Families Plus executive director, said she had never applied for a federal grant and viewed the process as a learning opportunity. To her delight, the grant was awarded.

Families Plus serves children growing up in challenging circumstances by partnering with the community to help those children thrive. Families Plus uses evidence-based wraparound strategies to deliver physical, dental and behavioral health care to hard-to-reach children in the county.

The Rural Health Services Outreach Grant, which will be allocated over three years, will allow Families Plus to further develop and expand those wraparound programs.

A second goal of the grant is to integrate behavioral health professionals into patients' primary medical homes, which is where Stoney Mesa Family Practice and Delta County Memorial Hospital come in. DCMH operates several clinics in Delta County.

The clinics have no internal behavioral health professionals and few outside providers for referrals. As the project advances, Families Plus will provide supervised, trained behavioral health care professionals to an increasing number of primary medical homes. Families Plus has seven mental health care professionals on staff, including two new full-time professionals, Betsy Nordstrom, MA-LPC and Susan Simianer, MA. A part-time administrator, Diane Perry, will help administer the grant.

Targeted populations include the children served by Families Plus, many of whom have complex needs; kids under the age of 18 from throughout the county who are not served by Families Plus; and adults who display symptoms of depression.

"Through this project, behavioral health disorders will be identified and treated in primary medical homes, resulting in the improvement or elimination of these disorders," Dr. Holland explained.

She cites a statistic that indicates up to 75 percent of doctor's office visits stem from stress, anxiety and other underlying conditions that cause physical health concerns. Incorporating behavioral health reflects a growing trend toward an integrated, comprehensive, team-based model of care that puts the patient at the center of decision making.

"We will be leading the way for rural areas, to make behavioral health services available in the doctor's office," Dr. Holland said. In the long run, Delta County will be a healthier place to live and work.

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