Your well-being is more than just your physical health. It is a combination of a handful of factors, including your mental wellness. Our partners at the Uncompahgre Medical Center (UMC) and Telluride Regional Medical Center (TMC) are leading the movement of tackling “health” from this holistic point of view. Both medical centers are using an integrated behavioral health model to address the physical and mental health needs of their patients.

At UMC, Shelley Fourney works alongside an integrated care team to address a patient’s whole health. This team consists of the behavioral health provider (Fourney), the medical provider, the patient and family, a dental provider, a pharmacist, the care manager, and a medical assistant. During appointments, Fourney works with individuals on various behavioral health needs like grief, stress, anxiety and depression. She also speaks with patients who want to set goals, lose weight and manage pain.

“One of the beauties of integrated care is we don’t have to wait until someone is in a crisis (to identify behavioral health needs)” Fourney explained. The average delay between mental health symptom onset and treatment is 10 years, and integrating behavioral health clinicians in primary care visits is crucial to shorten this time. This strategy from UMC looks at all the factors in a client’s life that impact their health and ensures quality wrap around care. Fourney and her colleagues have created a system that makes sure neither the mental nor physical health needs of their clients are neglected. By not separating the concepts of physical and behavioral health (i.e. having separate providers for a doctor's appointment and a therapy appointment), patients are far more likely to engage in behavioral health services. Fourney added, “I want to normalize needing help so that it's something everybody feels is accessible.”

Integrated behavioral health care is not exclusive to the west end of the county. TMC also offers the opportunity for behavioral health clinicians to be included into primary care visits.

“Every day, one of the behavioral health clinicians is working with the doctors in an integrated care model,” Lindsay Wright described. “In that model, primary care patients have the option to talk with a behavioral health clinician if they would like. That visit can include discussing coping skills, listening to someone describe what they are going through, and or connecting them to different services.”

Wright explained the benefits of integrated care by saying, “If someone wants to talk about medication or nutrition, your primary care doctor and behavioral health clinician can answer those questions in a team setting.” By making this connection, TMC’s integrated model is highlighting the connection between mental and physical health, reinforcing the idea that our minds are not separate from our bodies. Wright further explained that often patients come into their appointments to discuss a physical health issue and it comes up that they are also going through a difficult life event. In these moments, a behavioral health clinician can be called in to the exam room to work with the client as they navigate their personal situation.

When asked how this integrated model improves behavioral health outcomes in the community, Wright noted, “The integrated model is a good service because patients can come in for a regular appointment and we can catch mental health issues early before they build into bigger issues. We are starting important conversations earlier.” This early intervention is critical in addressing both mental and physical health issues. The earlier a problem is identified, the better off a patient will be.

Statistics show that those with serious mental illness have an increased risk for chronic disease, like diabetes and cancer, and individuals with chronic physical illnesses can be more likely to experience a mental health issue as well. Additionally, rates of diseases like hypertension, elevated blood sugar, obesity etc. are twice as high in adults with serious mental illness, and one in eight visits to U.S. emergency rooms are related to mental health and substance use disorders. UMC and TMC are addressing these worrying statistics by establishing themselves as organizations that value a holistic approach to being healthy. This includes a full spectrum of services for the whole person.

Both UMC and TMC’s integrated behavioral health models were highlighted on Tri-County Health Network’s monthly KOTO show “Mental Health Matters.” This show airs on the third Wednesday of each month and features relevant behavioral health stories and updates. To listen to the full interviews and to read more about each program, visit tchnetwork.org/blog.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, call the Colorado Crisis Services line at 1-844-493-TALK, or text “TALK” to 38255.