New program bridges link between physical, mental health

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August 18, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Far too often, a Medicaid recipient’s mental health affects his physical health, Nathan Fawson said, just as much as his physical health affects his mental state.
“To try and separate the two is a disservice to the individual,” said Fawson, associate executive director at Southeast Mental Health Center, which has opened Kansas Wellness, a newly developed Health Home program that serves Allen and five other counties in the area.
The Health Home program began statewide July 1, and is designed to integrate and coordinate all types of services and support for Medicaid beneficiaries suffering from long-term serious mental health conditions.
The program does not replace existing care services, but rather serves as an extra source for both mental health and physical health physicians, explained Holly Jerome, SEK Wellness program manager.
“The overall goal is to reduce Medicaid spending by guiding the member to the appropriate level of care,” Jerome said. “We want to offer them preventable treatment options.”
Fawson gave an example.
Say a Medicaid recipient knows he should go to the doctor but declines to do so for whatever reason, putting off treatment until it becomes an emergency.
“Since they haven’t established a connection with a primary care physician, where do they go?” Fawson asked. “They’ll go the emergency room, where they might spend a couple thousand dollars of testing to determine need and treatment and send the patient home, or admit them.”
Discharge includes directions to connect with another doctor.
“Far too often, they’ll go home and neglect that doctor,” Fawson said, which invariably leads to return trips to the emergency room.
That’s where SEK Wellness comes in.
“Part of our role is that of encouragement,” Fawson said. “We’ll help identify and assess their needs, then encourage them to follow through with preventive and educational health care.”
Southeast Kansas Wellness will then help coordinate those efforts.
And it includes more than just general physical health, Jerome said.
“We provide a bridging link to dental, mental health, physical and vision (care providers), as well as establish the member to a primary care physician,” Jerome said.
Southeast Kansas Wellness is administered by the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center.
“One of the strengths of community mental health is case management and care coordination,” Fawson added. “That directly results in the reduction of hospitalization. We better support an individual’s needs within the community, helping them remain and thrive and prevent higher levels of care, such as hospitalization.”
While SEKMHC has specialized solely on mental health in years past, joining the Health Home program “Is branching in a brand new world for us,” Fawson said.
“Often, a primary care physician will treat a patient within a clinic setting and recognize their physical symptoms may be exacerbated by their mental health,” he continued. “And that coordination might fall short. This is a service to help support that connection.”
“We want primary care physicians to view us as an extension of them,” Jerome added. “We have hired experienced nurses to help us with knowledge of physical needs.”
The program also is designed for future expansion, if and when the state develops Home Health services for other chronic conditions, Fawson said.

AS SEK WELLNESS director, Jerome brings a wealth of experience to the position. She has been an adult case manager for SEKMHC since 2007.
“When the Health Home program was being introduced statewide and we decided to be a leader, Holly immediately came to mind,” Fawson said.
Jerome has a bachelor’s degree in communications and public relations from Emporia State University.
Southeast Kansas Wellness serves Allen, Neosho, Woodson, Bourbon, Anderson and Linn counties.
Working under Jerome are Rhonda McGraw and Jamie Henderson, registered nurses, Julie Dillman, a licensed practical nurse, Jessica Atherton, a master’s level social worker, and Mark Weeks, a care coordinator and social worker.

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