Hospitals and health systems are going above and beyond to address and treat the myriad behavioral health concerns in their communities.  To highlight and honor the dedicated women and men who care for and keep our communities health during Mental Health Month, the AHA sat down with members of the Sanpete Valley Behavioral Health Network.

Caregivers at Sanpete Valley Hospital, a critical access hospital in Mount Pleasant, Utah, knew they had to implement a plan to improve behavioral health outcomes for those seeking care. Cheryl Nielson, Sanpete Valley Hospital Emergency Department Nurse Manager, reflects on the over utilization of the emergency department (ED) as a de facto mental health care system in the small rural community of 28,000.

“We were seeing more repeat customers than one timers in our ER, often with a comorbid medical and behavioral health diagnosis,” said Nielsen. “The same patients were coming back week after week due to a lack of resources or they didn’t know where to access the right care.”

The Sanpete Behavioral Health Community Network brings together a team of physicians, ED staff, social workers, patient advocates, care coordinators and therapists to make sure patients are getting the care and treatment they need. The network also includes two school districts, non-profit and government agencies and community volunteers. Linda Phillips, patient liaison for the behavioral health network, connects the dots to ensure patient care is seamless and efficient across multiple care settings.

“Linda is key to really coordinating that team-based care. Everyone must be on the same page and working together to make sure care is accessible, timely and delivered efficiently,” said LCSW and director of behavioral health network, Sanpete Community Behavioral Health Network, Kris Lundeberg.

Community and stakeholder buy-in coupled with the dedication of volunteer providers makes this network excel. The national shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists is one all too familiar for the Sanpete Valley region - there is not one psychiatrist in Sanpete Valley and limited access to psychologists. Dr. Brooks Thompson, medical director of the behavioral health network, not only provides counseling sessions at reduced cost to patients in the network, but also serves as a pivotal link to specialty psychiatric care. Dr. Thompson has a weekly call with a psychiatrist in Salt Lake City to help with diagnoses and recommendations for care and treatment.

“The Sanpete Valley Behavioral Community Health Network is a testament to the benefit of being a part of the Intermountain Healthcare system,” said Lundeberg. Sanpete Valley Hospital is able to tap into the wide network of Intermountain Health resources to deliver the best possible care for their patients. Furthermore, the benefit of increased education on behavioral health issues has led to greater community involvement and activation in embracing and helping those who need care. 

“This network has enabled us to reach out beyond the traditional health care space and educate our community about mental health care and treatment opportunities,” said Phillips. “Not only has there been a paradigm shift in the stigmatization of those dealing with behavioral health issues, but people are now seeing that there is help. Patients and providers are seeing the benefit of this program as actually being able to treat and care for patients with mental health issues.”

To learn more about how hospitals are improving behavioral health care for their communities, visit AHA’s behavioral health webpage.