TriHealth alters mental-health work

Cincinnati health system giant TriHealth said it will integrate behavioral health services into its pediatric and adult primary care locations.

The three-year initiative, launched with a $9 million grant from TriHealth grant-making partner bi3, will expand TriHealth’s behavioral health consultant model of care, making it among the first health systems in the nation to provide pediatric and adult patients with this approach. 

While behavioral health disorders occur in one out of four adults, they are often untreated or ineffectively treated. Today, mental illness ranks as the 11th major cause of death among all age groups and the second leading cause of death among people aged 25 to 34. 

Dallas Auvil

“The mental health system in this country is broken,” said Dallas Auvil, TriHealth’s system chief for behavioral health services. “The psychological and emotional effects of the pandemic brought to light the growing health crisis in our country that has too often been overlooked, undertreated, and underfunded. This tragic situation contributes to untold suffering, billions of dollars in unnecessary healthcare utilization, and the avoidable loss of millions of lives worldwide each year.”

The prevalence of mental health disorders among primary care patients is staggering. Studies show that one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of children hospitalized for mental health reasons increased by 163% nationally. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, behavioral health needs have significantly grown in all patient populations, and research indicates this trend will likely continue.

The new TriHealth model is designed to proactively identify patient needs by embedding behavioral health assessment and treatment capabilities within typical doctor’s office. For less severe conditions, treatment is provided in the office, often during the same visit when seeing a primary care provider. What makes this care model work is the collaboration between the physician or advanced practice practitioner, an embedded behavioral health consultant and a psychiatrist, which allows providers to treat the behavioral health issues, and any underlying health issues, all in an outpatient setting.

In addition to providing behavioral health services in primary care settings, TriHealth will also enhance support services, collect data to identify needed patient interventions and leverage telehealth and other tools to increase access to care. It will also establish community partnerships to ease social determinants of health barriers for adult and pediatric patients.

The groundbreaking approach builds on an existing bi3-funded TriHealth program, which developed and piloted the integrated health consultant model.

“To improve health outcomes, it’s critical we invest in behavioral and mental health services, especially as we look to provide our kids the help they so desperately need, ” said Jill Miller, president and CEO of bi3. “As both a mother and health funder, I’ve seen the struggle both parents and adult patients have accessing behavioral healthcare. TriHealth is at the forefront in the nation in developing a comprehensive approach, resulting in a healthier community for all of us.”

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