August 17, 2016 (TELLURIDE, CO.) — There’s an old joke: A scientist has worked hard; researching, studying, thinking and contemplating all his life so as to climb the mountain of knowledge. Eventually old and wise he arrives at the top. To his surprise he sees Buddha sitting on the top of the mountain. He asks: “What are you doing here?” The Buddha answers: “What took you so long?”
Integrated health care is like that; it empowers both primary care providers and patients to find solutions that borrow from the best medicine has to offer and other alternative and adjunctive approaches, like psychology and acupuncture, to understand and treat health issues at their most fundamental level.
Under the guidance of Medical Director Dr. Sharon Grundy, the Telluride Regional Medical Center offers this emerging brand of health care with a Behavioral Health Integration Program.
“When 46 percent of adults will experience a mental health illness or substance abuse disorder at some point in their lifetime, the medical community needs to rise up to offer solutions,” said Dr. Grundy.
According to Dr. Grundy, medical school and residency offer little training in actual mental health counseling. “Sending a patient away with advice to call a counselor has always seemed ineffective to me, especially when we know 20 percent of primary care patient visits are mental health related.”
In 2015 the Telluride Regional Medical Center was able to carve out funding from the Telluride Medical Center Foundation; the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative grant; and an award from the Colorado Health Foundation and Tri-County Health, to fund an in-house licensed clinical social worker.
“We were looking for a dynamic person who could adapt their training to apply a variety of brief, behavioral interventions initiated during a regular patient visit,” said Dr. Grundy. “And we found that in Rae Shaffner, a super star in our community.”
Today Shaffner sees patients as needed at some point during their scheduled primary care visit to assess mental health, substance use, chronic pain, and resource needs. She engages the patient in targeted therapies, refers them for counseling, or connects them with appropriate resources.
Additionally, the Behavioral Health Counselor’s role includes activating patients who are overwhelmed by underlying health issues and providing education on coping skills and strategies. Over the last year Shaffner has had over 650 patient consultations.
Primary care providers at the medical center have had such a positive response to the Behavioral Integration model they are now using the program in all aspects of patient care and recently added a second counselor, Rachael Cooke. Together Shaffner and Cooke work to ensure even more comprehensive services, including better management of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, insomnia, and eating disorders.
“We know anecdotally at our clinic what is reflected in scientific studies: when mental health and physical health are treated in harmony, overall health improves significantly, as does patient satisfaction,” said Dr. Grundy.
Patients who think they may benefit from visiting with a Behavioral Health Clinician should schedule a regular appointment with a primary care provider at the medical center. During the appointment their physician may decide to introduce a Behavioral Health Counselor if a need is indicated and the patient is open to these services. The patient, counselor, and provider will then work together collectively to determine the best course of care.
The latest element of the Behavioral Health Integration Program is Shaffner’s twice-weekly AcuWellness Clinic—providing auricular (ear) acupuncture in accordance with the NADA protocol—which aims to help patients address addiction issues, PTSD/trauma, anxiety, mood swings, depression, insomnia, grief and weight management.
“Rather than prescribe patients medicine and send them out the door we aim to work with them towards true health and wellness; we’re able to do that with this dedicated team,” said Dr. Grundy.