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Mental Health: A collaborative approach emerges at HonorHealth to find solutions to a ‘broken system’

Photo of woman in emotional distress that can now be treated at HonorHealth
Images like this are meant to illustrate a moment of emotional distress, which up until recently was not a major focus of the physical health arena — HonorHealth hopes to change that. (File Photo/
HonorHealth & EvolvedMD seek equitable access to vital mental health services
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

The time has come to address systemic failures of providing equitable access to mental health services part of the American health care apparatus, HonorHealth medical experts contend.

“I do think that the pandemic has changed the mental health perspectives,” said Dr. Tiffany Pankow, who serves as associate chief medical officer of primary care at HonorHealth Family Medicine.

“HonorHealth, for several years has been focused on helping the mental health of our patients as we had brought on this collaboration before the pandemic and as the pandemic unfolded, we saw the challenges of mental health services.”

HonorHealth has teamed up with EvolvedMD, to bridge the gap of behavioral healthcare in a modern primary care setting to assist vulnerable community members. The numbers of suicide among adolescents, young adults and geriatric populations have seen increases in recent years, experts report.

HonorHealth is reporting 67% of those who die by suicide had visited their primary care physician within two weeks of taking their life.

“The big shift in the last few years coming through the pandemic is it brought this to the forefront, and we cannot ignore it anymore,” said Erik Osland, co-founder and managing director at EvolvedMD. “The systemic issues within the health care setting are there were significant barriers to receive adequate mental health services in the physical health arena.”

Mr. Osland contends American health care can do a better job.

“I am a little ashamed of that, but the health care systems now understand both conditions that mental and physical health are symbiotic. A lot of folks who need help don’t ever get to the professionals like ourselves. When we talk about suicide, it all kind of starts with identification.”

What the EvolvedMD collaboration allows HonorHealth to do is provide a behavioral specialist along with doctors and nurse practitioners at the onset of treatment. Dr. Pankow and Mr. Osland hope to bridge the gap between behavior health care and physical medical care.

“We have been bringing in behavioral specialists into our primary care clinics,” Dr. Pankow explained. “This is a part of our holistic approach to serving people. We started this just prior to the pandemic — and it is preventative — we need to do a better job identifying. The pandemic has highlighted the mental health issues, no doubt.”

HonorHealth Primary care & suicide prevention

The American medical insurance apparatus is designed to serve those with debilitating mental health disorders — it does not contemplate the needs of treatment for general anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation.

“In primary care there is an opportunity to build relationships and trust is established much more closely,” Dr. Pankow explains of the opportunity primary care offers for mental health services. “Essentially, it would be a warm hand-off if there are concerns. We can work together to alleviate the crisis with the highest level of care.”

Mr. Osland lauds the effort, collaboration and pursuit to help folks who need it in both mental and physical health arenas.

“When we talk about preventing suicide it all kind of starts with identification,” he said. “Primary care is the best setting so ask the questions about depression, anxiety and self-harm. We can then step in and we can mitigate.”

Mr. Osland points out many behavioral specialists are drawn to the line of work due oftentimes to personal experiences. They want to help, he explains.

“These are the most caring and compassion people because they want to help people,” he said. “It is the system that is broken, and it is broken in a way that is spread out all over deliverability. What has ultimately happened is if you want quality mental health services you are paying out of pocket.”

For Dr. Pankow she hopes this program is the start of a seismic shift in how patients are cared for in a primary care setting — at an HonorHealth facility or otherwise.

“We can really frame that out right then and there at the primary care clinic,” she explained of the collaborative approach. “I do think this collaboration can help mightily in how we can help people.”

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