Digital Transformation



Ozarks Healthcare expands equitable access to mental healthcare

The organization’s Behavioral Health Center Crisis Stabilization Center is a medically monitored program that provides an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization and meets a variety of social health needs.

Rural organizations such as Ozarks Healthcare have special challenges in meeting the needs of their populations.

This article is part of the June 2023 COVERstory.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a dramatic rise in the number of patients identifying as having one or more mental health conditions. In fact, the World Health Organization has reported a 25 percent increase in the global prevalence of anxiety and depression.

Leadership at Ozarks Healthcare in West Plains, Mo., quickly recognized the impact that the rise in mental health needs was having on the organization’s rural community. In addition, the organization’s 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) identifed mental health and substance abuse as the top priority health issue.

Amid a statewide loss of behavioral health practitioners, the need for expanded mental health services was evident. The two primary counties Ozarks Healthcare serves were significantly under-represented with such professionals, with population-to-mental health provider ratios of 400-to-1 for Howell County and a staggering 5,200-to-1 for Oregon County.

Adding to the challenge was that the second priority issue for the organization in its CHNA assessment was access and affordability of care. Some 16 percent of Howell County residents and 17 percent of Oregon County residents are underinsured — well above the state average of 12 percent. This meant that to be effective, Ozarks Healthcare also needed to make these services affordable and accessible to all.

Expanding services

In 2021, the Missouri governor set aside $15 million to fund six new crisis stabilization centers across the state. Ozarks Healthcare’s Behavioral Health Center quickly applied and was awarded funding from the Missouri Department of Mental Health to establish a crisis center.

Opened in January 2023 and covering seven counties, the Ozarks Healthcare Behavioral Health Center Crisis Stabilization Center is a medically monitored program that provides an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization. Service offerings include psychosocial assessment, psychiatric evaluation and medical services, crisis intervention and brief therapy, and peer support.

To address community SDOH needs, the center also provides case management and referral services for Medicaid applications, community resources, employment and housing application assistance, and transportation assistance. The center also refers patients to other physical and mental health services offered by Ozarks Healthcare.

The Crisis Stabilization Center offers walk-in, no-fee services to anyone in a mental health crisis requiring stabilization through brief therapy techniques, medication management, or both, regardless of ability to pay. The center provides a better alternative to busy emergency departments or local law enforcement agencies; who lack the resources to provide the same level of support.

Ozarks Healthcare also partners with community organizations to match patients with the most appropriate mental health programs offered through its behavioral health center. For example, it’s clear that substance abuse rarely occurs in a vacuum and that there are many contributing factors, from environmental and socioeconomic situations to other types of trauma or behavioral disorders, such as depression or anxiety. By working with community partners, contributing factors can better be identified and patients can be matched to appropriate programs, such as group therapy, family therapy, individual counseling or other peer support services.

Targeting mental healthcare

Improving accessibility to mental healthcare is also a top priority for Ozarks Healthcare. Many mental healthcare services include a virtual option for patients who lack time or transportation to attend an inpatient appointment.

The behavioral health center also partners with seven area schools to provide school-based counseling. Behavioral health clinics reside within the schools, helping young people face existing issues or behavioral events to prevent issues from escalating later in life. The availability of school-based clinics expands these services to a larger demographic of students whose parents lack the time or means to pull them from school and bring them to therapy. It also minimizes disruptions in the student’s school day.

Healthcare technology plays a significant role in enabling Ozarks Healthcare's integrated approach to mental health. All facilities — including inpatient services, outpatient clinics, schools and the Crisis Stabilization Center — share a single MEDITECH Expanse EHR. This integration gives clinicians a more holistic view of their patient’s health.

Medications, allergies and other patient information is shared across settings, helping to avoid duplicate testing and adverse events. Behavioral health providers can also view pertinent details contributing to a patient’s mental state, such as lipid panels or weight fluctuations. But the system also protects the confidentiality of sensitive mental health information. Providers in the behavioral health center can shield confidential visit information so clinicians outside the clinic see only that a patient is receiving psychiatric care – not the details.

Ozarks Healthcare’s Expanse EHR also helped the organization to become a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC), a federal designation emphasizing comprehensive mental healthcare. MEDITECH worked with Ozarks Healthcare to ensure the Expanse Revenue Cycle solution would help the organization meet all of the complicated CCBHC billing processes, which include fixed rates and multiple payers. Doing so helped them to ensure appropriate and timely billing.

Looking ahead, Ozarks Healthcare intends to hire 20 therapists to support its expanding mental health services.

Priscilla A. Frase, MD, is CMIO and a hospitalist at Ozarks Healthcare.

Return to the June 2023 COVERstory.

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