Behavioral health grant provides more access to services

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC strategic communications | October 01, 2021

Image with caption: Teri Mathews, PhD, is the principal investigator of the grant.

Teri Mathews, PhD, is the principal investigator of the grant.

A $1.5 million grant to the UNMC College of Nursing is making a difference in the lives of Nebraskans. Last year, the three-year grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provided more access to behavioral health services, particularly for underserved populations. It funded two fulltime behavioral health providers -- one in Omaha and one in Ravenna, Nebraska -- and integrated the services into primary care clinics.

Nebraska Medicine’s Internal Medicine Primary Care Clinic in the Durham Outpatient Center, which also is designated a federally qualified health center, serves individuals at a disadvantage due to economic, medical or geographic barriers. Terri Mathews, PhD, associate professor and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner in the UNMC College of Nursing, is principal investigator of the grant.

"Providing quality integrated behavioral health in primary care is an ongoing goal for most primary care clinics," Dr. Mathews said. "However, implementing the process is not always easy. While there is still some work to be done, Mike Walsh and the advanced practice nurses, Melanie and Laura, have done a wonderful job with integrating the care at a higher level at the Durham Internal Medicine clinic."

Julia Houfek, PhD, advanced practice registered nurse and professor emeritus in the UNMC College of Nursing, said care involves a skilled interdisciplinary team of primary health care and behavioral health. The team is led by family nurse practitioners and includes a medical family therapist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner consultant. The team communicates its recommendations to the patients’ physicians and clinic staff to assure integration of care.

"Our Health Resources and Services Administration grant integrates behavioral health services for patients within their primary care clinic which assures that patients can more easily access behavioral health care in the same place they received their physical health care," Dr. Houfek said. "Patients’ health care goals are more likely to be met when their health care providers address both their physical and mental health needs in primary care."

Vanessa Warneking, registered nurse and clinic manager, said the fulltime behavioral health provider is in high demand at patient-centered medical homes.

"Before the grant, we had a behavioral health provider, but we shared with several other clinics," she said. "Having a fulltime provider in our clinic enables patients being seen for a medical appointment to receive behavioral health services the same day or next day if they need a behavioral health consult more urgently."

Another advantage of the integrated behavioral health services, Warneking said, is that patients know the provider is a trusted member of the clinic’s primary care medical home and care team.

"The patients feel comfortable since they already seek medical care here. It also can improve patient behavioral health outcomes and patient satisfaction by giving them the right tools, education and treatment plans to care," she said.

Tom O’Connor
October 01, 2021 at 7:26 AM

Congrats, Terri. This will truly make a difference.