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HCRS and SMCS Receive SAMHSA Grant Funding

HCRS and Springfield Medical Care Systems (SMCS) are two of four recipients in the State of Vermont to receive funds as part of the Vermont Family Centered Healthcare Home Project (VFCHP). The Vermont Department of Mental Health was awarded $9.9 million through a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to develop a care delivery system that supports coordination and service delivery between Vermont’s community mental health centers and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC). The program will begin in two regions of the State and expand to two other regions in the third year.

The other two grant recipients to receive these funds, disbursed over a five-year period, are Northwestern Counseling & Support Services (NCSS) and Northern Tier Center for Health (NOTCH) in northwestern Vermont.

VFCHP is a unique program, as it will provide an integrated care delivery system that addresses the physical and social support needs of youth who are at risk or have been diagnosed with severe emotional disturbance and their families. Severe emotional disturbance may limit a child’s function within their family unit, in school, or in the community as a whole. Involving the family in the youth’s plan of care offers a stronger base for resiliency and overall improvement across all environments in a child’s life. Families will be engaged in the process of their own healthcare with increased knowledge, clear expectations, and understanding of options, risks, and benefits. Regular care plan meetings will occur for families and practitioners to work together around addressing social determinants of health, decision making, and implementation of services.

The doctor’s office is not always the most appropriate environment to address the concerns of a child or caregiver. The mission of VFCHP is to provide a safe and accessible program for children in a manner that works for them and their families. The new positions created by this grant will allow for innovative and personalized approaches for families. SMCS will have medical staff embedded directly within HCRS; Pediatric Social Workers and Behavioral Health Specialists will be available for consultation, screening, assessment, and referrals; Parent Educator/Health Coaches will promote health and wellness at home and in the community; and Specialty Service Providers will deliver services in the best setting, whether that be the doctor’s office, within the school, home, or community. “This family-centered approach to health care will help individuals stay well and promote family and community health,” says George Karabakakis, Ph.D., CEO of HCRS.

In VFCHP, there will be an emphasis on improving family nutritional practices, as well as tracking immunizations, Body Mass Index (BMI), tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, oral health, and scheduled wellness visits. Addressing these health issues from all corners means a more structured system and an increased number of children and adolescents screened, referred, and accessing services.

Often our physical health and mental health are separated both in theory and location. In VFCHP’s integrated care delivery model, physical and mental health are addressed together, across environments. It makes sense to approach healthcare in this way. Many staff from HCRS will be spending time with individuals outside of the office in environments that go beyond primary care physicians’ offices. Mental health providers can seek to understand why individuals behave and act the way they do. This includes lifestyle choices, sleep, and exercise, all of which contribute to overall wellbeing.

“We have been collaborating with HCRS for a long time and expect our teamwork to continue well into the future. There is a definite link between mental and physical health. For example, studies show a strong association between depressive illness and cardiovascular health, as well as risk factors that include lack of exercise, obesity, and poor diet. It is clear that demand for services is strong and working together will benefit our patients and improve the overall health of our communities,” comments Tim Ford, President and Chief Executive Officer of SMCS.

Karabakakis says this grant “provides HCRS and SMCS with the resources necessary to improve care and treatment for children and their families and ultimately support building healthy communities.”  The Vermont Department of Health estimates that there are at least 12,000 children who have, or are at risk of, severe emotional disturbance, yet the percentage of these youths accessing mental health treatment is low. In our area, there are approximately 1600 school-age children who meet criteria for severe emotional disturbance.