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Yamhill CCO leverages local innovation

Mary Peterson
Mary Peterson’s program will train behavioral health consultants to work in a primary care setting.

June 3, 2013, (Newberg) — Mary Peterson says it's all there in the numbers.

"When a primary care doctor refers a patient to a mental health professional outside the office, the rate of follow-up is 8 percent. If it happens within the office, follow-up goes up to 80 percent," she says. "The key is the ‘warm hand-off’ – when the provider introduces the behavioral person right there in the office."

Peterson is the chair of the graduate department of clinical psychology at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. Thanks to a proposal from Mid-Valley Behavioral Care Network’s Kathy Savicki and a grant from the local Yamhill Coordinated Care Organization, Peterson’s department will train and place behavioral health consultants in six primary care clinics across Yamhill County. The three-week training teaches fidelity to the school's model for brief behavioral interventions as well as lessons in how to adapt to the primary care environment and workflow.

"When a primary care doctor refers a patient to a mental health professional outside the office, the rate of follow-up is 8 percent. If it happens within the office, follow-up goes up to 80 percent."  ~ Mary Peterson, George Fox University

Once embedded in the doctor's office, the behavioral health consultants will be there when clinic staff needs to make a referral. They will provide mental health and addiction screening and use standardized best practices to meet state benchmarks for child and adolescent mental health, including adolescent well-child visits and follow-up for children who have been prescribed medication for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.

The goal is to help patients improve their health by changing their behavior.

"We believe that small changes make a big difference over time," Peterson says. "If you have an ocean liner and you shift your direction by just one or two degrees of latitude, you will end up in a very different place. It's the same with health care. For instance, with obesity – we love obesity in a lot of ways, because people can make small changes by increasing activity that may be unrelated to pounds lost, but increasing activity has significant impacts on long-term health." 

Peterson's project is one of four initiatives to draw upon Yamhill CCO's "transformation fund" grant program. Yamhill CCO Executive Director Jim Carlough said in a statement that the fund's projects are intended to help the CCO and its members achieve the triple aim of better health, better health care and lower costs.

"We want to be able to leverage the innovation that is here in Yamhill County, and to provide the resources to improve the health of the community in new and innovative ways."