Caring and collaboration are key components for tending to a patient’s physical condition at NorthBay Healthcare and it’s no different when it comes to a patient’s emotional well-being.
NorthBay’s mental health team has been working to develop an integrated behavioral health program that provides “whole-person” primary medical care since 2011, explained Corinna Press, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist with NorthBay. “The behavioral health integration concept is founded on the principle that one’s overall health is inextricably linked to multiple factors, including biological, social, psychological, and cultural determinants of health,” she said. “In other words, our physical well-being is impacted by how we are doing emotionally, and vice versa.”
Today, a team of one psychologist (Dr. Press), one licensed clinical social worker and one mental health technician work together at NorthBay’s three Center for Primary Care locations in Vacaville, Fairfield and Green Valley. They include Jessica Valdez, licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), at the Green Valley CPC; and Toni Perez, mental health tech who joins Dr. Press at the Fairfield CPC. They provide consultation, crisis intervention, diagnostic evaluation, brief psychotherapy, and psychoeducation. “We work with the patient and their care team to provide the most useful interventions,” said Dr. Press.
The mental health team members are called in when a primary care provider asks them to meet with their patient briefly to check on a particular concern, such as tearfulness, anxiety, or difficulty with a life transition.
“This is called a warm hand-off,” explained Dr. Press. “A mental health provider or technician will briefly hear from the primary care providers about their reason for the warm hand-off. Then the mental health team will meet with the patient to get a sense of what is going on, from the patient’s perspective, and to help identify what the patient is looking for.”
It’s an opportunity for the patient to express themselves and for the mental health team member to get a clear understanding to make recommendations, she said.
Depending on the situation, a patient will receive recommendations, resources, or an appointment or referral to an appropriate provider, Dr. Press said. “We try to support their decision-making process by listening, reflecting back what we hear, working with the patient to clarify what they want, and then offering recommendations and reasons for these recommendations,” she said. “We think of the conversation — even if it results in the patient saying no — as planting a seed or two. We offer a positive and therapeutic experience. This increases the chance they will follow through, if not now, then perhaps sometime in the future.”
Teaming up within the primary care setting is important. “Visibility, education, and understanding go a long way,” Dr. Press explained. “So does having a psychologically informed staff. Behavioral health integration in the primary care setting alone is a great step toward destigmatizing mental health issues. It is as normal as getting blood drawn, getting a cast put on, or being referred to any other kind of specialist.”
Jessica Valdez, LCSW, also views the team approach as invaluable for patients.
“We are able to access patients who wouldn’t normally seek out mental health services themselves,” said Jessica, “and as it is under direction of their primary care physician, it creates more trust and opens opportunity to get that care.”