Behavioral Health – Must Be In Care Continuum


Behavioral health disorders affect a large portion of our population. Each year, one in four Americans experience a mental illness or substance abuse disorder and the majority has comorbid physical health problems. Currently, 55 percent of U.S. counties have no practicing psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers. In 2009, more than two million discharges from local community hospitals were for a diagnosis of mental illness or substance abuse, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Every year 217 million days of work are lost due to productivity declines which cost U.S. employers $21.7 billion annually, according to the Impact of Mental Disorders on Work, Pfizer Outcomes Research.

The vast majority of people with mental health issues do not become violent, but identifying theses issues early and developing treatment options provides the optimal patient outcome. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that in 2010 nearly 20,000 of 30,000 deaths from guns in the U.S. were suicides. Suicide represents the third leading cause of death for teenagers and AHRQ reported among children, mental health conditions were the fourth most common reason for admission to a hospital in 2009.

The Community Needs Assessment for North Texas, in conjunction with the Medicaid 1115 Waiver requirements, clearly underscores the need for better mental health and addictive disease services for our communities. Hospitals obviously respond to behavioral health needs through treatment in emergency rooms with referral to psychiatric services. Physicians, hospitals and other health care providers are uniquely positioned to assist in educating patients about mental health resources. Enhanced education and expanded mental health treatment will make our communities healthier providing a more productive workforce. However, we must improve access to mental health services including expanding the number of mental health professionals and treatment options for patients in North Texas. We need to work diligently to ensure that insurance plans (including our state Medicaid program) cover mental health benefits at parity with other benefits.

As providers and health care organizations effectively integrate care across treatment settings, and between behavioral and physical health, we will improve quality, outcomes and treatment costs.