Legacy Moves toward New Delivery of Mental Health Care in Texas

By: Brianna DAlessio South, Marketing Specialist

To address the public health emergency in Texas, Legacy Community Health is beginning to integrate mental health into its primary care practice to better identify and treat conditions like depression and anxiety. What began as a pilot program for Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH), which combines physical and mental health services instead of the standard separation between the two, will now be a permanent investment at the community center’s Baytown, TX clinic and replicated at Legacy’s flagship Montrose location in Houston. Half a million adults in Harris County have experienced some sort of mental illness like depression or an anxiety disorder in any given year.

“The mind must be given the same urgency as the body,” said Chad Lemaire, Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Legacy Community Health.  “Based on our belief in treating the whole person, embedding therapists into primary care visits allows for greater access to mental health care and treatment of patients, many of whom would likely go untreated. Both inside and outside the exam room, it’s critical the medical community yank mental health illness out from under the rug, encourage a conversation, and fight stigma. That would save lives and livelihoods.”

According to the Dallas-based Meadows Mental Health Institute, nine out of 10 Texans say it’s more difficult to discuss mental than physical health. A lack of insurance and co-occurring substance abuse complicates the situation statewide. Veterans continue to lack the behavioral health care they need in a timely manner.

Beginning in the fall of 2014, Legacy launched a two-year pilot initiative in Baytown that re-worked care teams to include a licensed behavioral specialist – working in tandem with the primary care physician – and instituted new mental health screening protocols for many of its adult patients. A positive screening for depression or anxiety triggered the primary care provider’s referral for an IBH assessment, either immediately following the initial appointment or scheduled for a later date. Legacy’s Baytown clinic will have screened 80% of its patient population by next month using the IBH model.

“We decided to tackle Texas’ behavioral health challenge ourselves,” said Kevin Nix, senior director of public affairs and communications at Legacy. “But, even during a tight budget season, lawmakers have a vital role in mitigating this monster of a problem. Allowing for telemedicine is one policy solution, as is allocating more money, which would have an immediate effect on millions of Texans and a positive impact on the state’s bottom line.”

Telemedicine allows psychiatrists to deliver behavioral health care by phone or on the internet. Mental health is expected to be a top priority in the upcoming legislative session.