Virginia Health Care Foundation Celebrates its 25th Anniversary by Launching New Behavioral Health Initiative

Richmond, Virginia –To mark its 25th anniversary, the Virginia Health Care Foundation (VHCF) will announce a new $1.5 million behavioral health initiative designed to increase access to mental health services for medically underserved and uninsured Virginians on Monday, May 22.

“Both data and experience document the critical need for mental health services throughout Virginia,” said Ralph Howell, the Chairman of VHCF’s Board of Trustees. “Recent Community Health Needs Assessments conducted by Virginia hospitals and some health departments identified access to behavioral health services as a top critical service gap.  Increasing access to and/or improving behavioral health services was a priority strategy to address the gap.

These findings are affirmed by the experience of Virginia’s free and charitable clinics, community health centers, and other similar organizations which deliver health care to the uninsured and medically underserved.  Behavioral health is one of the top three conditions with which patients present in the healthcare safety net (HSN).”

The new initiative, called Beyond Blue, will address mental health needs in the HSN by: integrating behavioral health services with primary medical care for diabetic patients with depression; preparing interested HSN organizations to implement a trauma-informed approach to care in their practices with a special focus on resiliency training; and increasing the number of psychiatric nurse practitioners educated and practicing in the HSN and state.

Depression is often a co-morbidity with diabetes, another one of the top three conditions treated in the HSN.  However, studies show that only 30-50% of diabetics with major depression are recognized and treated.  Depression increases the rate of mortality among people with diabetes by 30% due to nonadherence with treatment plans.  This nonadherence leads to medical emergencies and higher medical costs, as well.

Through grants awarded on a competitive basis, VHCF will give HSN organizations with a paid behavioral health professional the opportunity and expertise to address depression in their diabetic patients via an elevated level of integration of behavioral health services with primary medical care.  This will ensure that each patient has the internal wherewithal to engage fully in his/her diabetic treatment plan.  “It will help HSN clinics treat the whole person and address the mental health challenges many patients face  that can make it so difficult to conquer or manage diabetes,” said Debbie Oswalt, VHCF’s Executive Director.

The second prong, a trauma-informed approach to care (TIC), is a focus because ongoing research indicates that a history of trauma in both children and adults significantly increases the likelihood of long-lasting negative impacts on physical and mental health. Trauma-informed care is an organizational structure and treatment framework that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both patients and providers.  It involves both the organizational and clinical aspects of a health safety net medical practice.  Implementing a trauma-informed approach to care offers the potential to improve health outcomes for patients and reduce avoidable health care costs.

As part of Beyond Blue, VHCF will offer trainings, tools, skills development, and technical assistance to HSN providers interested in developing and implementing TIC and resiliency training in their organizations.  “This is another recognition of the interconnection between physical and mental. By creating supportive environments that effectively recognize and respond to the impact of trauma and teach patients resiliency skills, we can significantly improve the health of patients,” Oswalt said.

The third prong of Beyond Blue is designed to help address the scarcity of psychiatric nurse practitioners (Psych NPs) in Virginia, where 75% of the state is a federally designated mental health professional shortage area.  While there are shortages and an aging behavioral health workforce in many behavioral health professions, the small number of Psych NPs is the most compelling deficiency by far.  There are only 213 licensed in Virginia.  That’s barely more than one per locality.  These are the only behavioral health professionals licensed to prescribe medicines (a much needed  treatment for many mental health conditions) other than psychiatrists.

To increase the number of Psych NPs in Virginia, “VHCF will promote and fund full scholarships for nurse practitioners interested in becoming a Psych NP with the requirement that recipients work for two years in the HSN post-graduation.  VHCF will also help expand Psych NP programs in targeted Virginia schools of nursing”, said Oswalt.

This initiative will be underwritten by a $500,000  2:1 challenge grant from the Collis-Warner Foundation, which will also be announced at the event.  VHCF’s three Founding Funders (Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States, and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association) and the Wells Fargo Foundation have renewed their longstanding support of VHCF by committing a combined total of more than $100,000 which will be used to help match the challenge grant.

Beyond Blue will be announced at VHCF’s annual Heroes in Health Care Celebration Monday in Richmond.  The event features U.S. Senator Mark Warner, VHCF’s Founding Chairman, as its Keynote Speaker.  Other special guest speakers include Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Services William A. Hazel, Jr.; Virginia Senator Emmett W.  Hanger, Jr.; and Virginia Delegates Christopher K Peace and John M. O’Bannon, III.

More than 280 health and business leaders, health safety net executive directors, local medication assistance caseworkers, and child health outreach workers from all areas of the state are registered to attend and will be lauded for their work to help uninsured Virginians obtain needed health care and medicines.  Significant achievements will be noted, including VHCF’s longstanding initiatives which have insured 93,000 children in the FAMIS public health insurance programs; provided health services to 600,000 uninsured Virginians; underwritten medical and other health professionals who provided 3.1 million patient visits with VHCF funding.

Heroes in Heath Care is a wonderful setting to celebrate our shared accomplishments over the past 25 years and to announce Beyond Blue as the Foundation’s newest initiative to meet critical healthcare needs of uninsured and medically underserved Virginians,” Howell said.

“VHCF has a history of identifying new and innovative ways to deliver needed services, leverage limited resources, incorporate best practices, and  add value to the Commonwealth.  We are enthusiastic about this first initiative of VHCF’s next 25 years and look forward to excellent results!”

For more information about VHCF and its programs, visit www.vhcf.org  or call (804) 828-5804.