Sun Life receives ACA grant to expand behavioral health; $250,000 goes toward equipment, staff for five Pinal communities

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Davis Plunkett

Sun Life Family Health Center

 

CASA GRANDE – This month Sun Life was one out of only three health centers in Arizona to receive a portion of the $56.6 million in federal funding from the Affordable Care Act, to expand its integrated behavioral health department.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell announced earlier this month the 221 grantees of the $54.6 million in funding, spanning 47 states and Puerto Rico, to establish or expand behavioral health services for over 450,000 people nationwide. Health centers will use these new funds for efforts such as hiring new mental health professionals, adding mental health and substance use disorder health services, and employing integrated models of primary care.

The Sun Life Integrated Behavioral Health program started four years ago in 2010. And thanks to the federal funding, a two-year, $250,000 grant, the department at Sun Life will be growing.

The monies afforded them by the Affordable Care Act will not only allow Sun Life to upgrade telemedicine equipment, but expand behavioral health care to five Sun Life offices that have never had those services before. The organization plans to hire three new full-time behaviorists. One will work out in Maricopa, another will work in both Coolidge and Eloy, and the third will work in the Oracle and San Manuel communities.

Needs for integrated behavioral health services, Department Manager Davis Plunkett said, has been steadily growing, one that Sun Life has been eager to meet.

“An estimated 60 percent of the patients that come in our doors at Sun Life are in need of behavioral intervention,” he said. “So, there is definitely a need. One that’s growing, given the state of the unrest in the world today and what people are going through, and all of the stressors of today.”

Mental health providers at Sun Life not only screen patients for behavioral conditions such as bi-polar disorder, anxiety, insomnia or depression, but also help patients having a hard time adhering to their care plan to take control of their health. Care plans can be for anything medical, from patients trying to get a handle on their diabetes, hypertension, COPD, and/or chronic pain.

Patients commonly receive their behavioral health consultations in the exam room with their doctor, and a small percentage have six or more sessions with Sun Life behaviorists.

“But those patients who need more in-depth counseling, we refer out,” Plunkett explained. “What we typically work on with patients is trying to help them make some immediate changes. We’ll set goals with our patients. We try to encourage patients to try to start to take accountability in their lives, and set some small, attainable goals for their health. ”

According to Plunkett, the two-year grant will allow Sun Life to reach an additional 1,500 patients a year.

“The integrated behavioral health program here at Sun Life has grown over the years, as we’ve seen the needs increase. And I think with the expansion of the program, thanks to this grant, will allow us to meet the needs of patients who have been struggling in those communities without that support for a long time. This grant and behavioral health expansion is not only going to strengthen Sun Life, but a medical program that looks at all facets of a patient’s health – medically and emotionally – using mind-body medicine.”

The Affordable Care Act expanded mental health and substance use disorder benefits for approximately 60 million Americans. These monies give those with newly expanded health coverage additional opportunities to access high quality care.

Today, nearly 1,300 health centers operate more than 9,200 service delivery sites that provide care to over 21.7 million patients in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Pacific Basin. In 2013, health centers saw over 1.2 million behavioral health patients.

For a list of awardees, please see: http://1.usa.gov/1lc6MRj.

To learn more about HRSA’s Community Health Center Program, visit http://1.usa.gov/Ymn67y.

Lindsey Gemme (2 Posts)

Lindsey Gemme is a public relations specialist for Sun Life Medical Center with facilities in Pinal County.


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