Whether it is for recurring issues like substance use disorder (SUD) and depression or for new problems related to the pandemic and civil unrest, more Americans are seeking behavioral health help. And more providers are rising to the challenge of delivering services, with some of them going above and beyond to personalize the experience for best results.
A growing number of providers have found that patients’ behavioral health needs are different, and that treatments should take into account factors like their professions, sexual orientation and cultural backgrounds. In doing so, those providers have come up with inventive ways to generate better outcomes for historically underserved populations.
Take Caron Treatment Centers, for example. Headquartered in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, the addiction treatment provider offers a menu of specialty services to patients across its locations in Pennsylvania, Florida, Atlanta, New York City and Washington, DC.
Those populations include teens, members of the LGBTQ community, first responders, licensed health care workers, executives and more.
Unlike other providers who are new to the specialty program trend, Caron — which opened in 1957 — was ahead of the curve. It started offering specialty services decades ago, when it debuted its program for teens struggling with SUD.
The teen program was created over 30 years ago, and the demand for it was strong enough that Caron decided to start tailoring treatments to other groups based on demographics such as age.
“That’s really where we started,” Cheryl Knepper, Caron’s senior vice president of clinical operations, told Behavioral Health Business. “We’ve really grown and looked at what populations need specific programming to address their issues in a sensitive manner. From there, we’ve spun off into several other specialty programs.”
One specialty population Caron serves is adults over 50, many of whom are suffering from SUD that is comorbid with other physical health problems.
“Our… program [is] for those ages 50 to 90 years of age, who come in compromised medically due to their disease ravaging them for many years.” Knepper said. “[Patients] come in generally cognitively compromised. [They] may need an aide to assist them for mobility issues, and they need a private setting with [a] peer group to continue to address that lifespan issue.”
Additionally, Caron has a special offering for professionals in various industries, who are subject to their own unique set of pressures that frequently drive them to develop SUD.
“Most of them are business professionals, maybe CEOs of companies, self-made folks, [or] those that might come from an affluent family,” Knepper said. She also said that such patients find Caron’s services ideal because it allows them to continue working remotely while receiving treatment.
Last September, Caron went a step further and created a separate program for professional women on its Pennsylvania campus. Knepper said the program is even more tailored to address women’s addiction issues, which have usually been compounded by the attempt to balance work and family obligations, as well as past trauma.
“This is also a population that has a high rate of mental health issues,” she said. “[They] tend to come in much more compromised … in their disease of addiction because they’re caretaking for everybody else… at the same time.”
Overall, Knepper said that specialty services work well on a business level for Caron because the more personalized nature of treatment yields better results than generalized services.
“Programs that combine specialized staff and patient communities yield stronger recovery outcomes and patients’ satisfaction,” she said. “[This] bolsters Caron’s business and supports our long-term, not-for-profit mission and vision of helping more people achieve recovery for life.”
Law enforcement needs, race-based trauma
In addition to Caron, Lifeologie Institute is another provider that offers specialty services. Specifically, it has a program that targets workers in high-stress vocations.
Take first responders, for example. Like those in the C-suite, first responders have hyper-stressful jobs that can often lead to behavioral health issues.
“First responders are secondary victims of trauma, if you think about it,” Melanie Wells, the founder of Dallas-based Lifeologie, told BHB. “Cops will show up to a murder scene or to something really violent happenng. Firemen show up and … there’s a child that’s burned in a house.”
Founded in 1999, Lifeologie is a franchiser of mental health and therapy centers with locations throughout Texas, as well as in Michigan, North Carolina and San Diego.
In 2019, Lifeologie partnered up with Fort Worth, Texas-based Readiness Group, which provides trauma response programs for first responders, as well as school districts and medical organizations. Together — and with the help of some local grant funding — the duo created the First Responders Resiliency Pilot Program to serve police, fire and dispatch personnel in nine Dallas-Fort Worth area towns.
“We’ve got these really tough [workers] that come in and have been through a lot, and normally would not ask for help,” Wells said. “But because of the relationship that we have with these cities, we’re able to intervene, and not just get these people back to a mentally healthy state, but to really head off any future incidents.”
Some of those incidents include the well-publicized deaths of a number unarmed Black and Hispanic individuals in police custody that have occurred over the years. The issue reached critical mass last year following the death of George Floyd, which sparked social unrest nationwide.
“That’s a big priority for us,” Wells said. “We have a priority of pursuing a social justice agenda and an anti-racist agenda. Part of that involves our work that we do with first responders, because good cops don’t want to make mistakes like that.”
Lifeologie’s pursuit of an anti-racist agenda extends to the race-baced trauma services available it all of its franchises. Wells said that the company is also putting an emphasis on bringing Black mental health professionals on board as franchisees to plug what she calls “mental health deserts” that are rife in low-income communities where many minority populations live.
“We’re working really actively to find funding sources so that we can make this business ownership more accessible to minority owners,” she said.
Lifeologie has sold seven locations for new franchises during the pandemic, and Wells said the company has been able to do so while keeping buy-in prices low for new owners.
She believes the franchisee arrangement is critical to the company’s overall business model and make providing specialty services possible and available in the communities it serves.
“Our goal is to make business ownership … succeed and do high quality work in any neighborhood,” she said. “That’s our goal. And our system is finely tuned to make that happen.”
Specialty services go virtual
Another provider offering specialty behavioral health services is TimelyMD, which focuses not only on a specific group of customers, but also on delivering services through a virtual method.
Fort Worth-based TimelyMD provides 24/7 telehealth services — both behavioral and medical — for college students at no cost. The company works with colleges and universities to make it possible, using its network of licensed providers in all 50 states to dispense round-the-clock assistance such as counseling, psychiatric support and health coaching.
Currently, TimelyMD works with more than 80 higher education institutions nationwide, including schools such as Duke University, Emory University, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Notre Dame. And earlier this year, the provider scored a $60 million investment from tech-centric growth firm JMI Equity.
Chris Clark, the chief strategy officer and a co-founder of TimelyMD, said he got the idea for the company after attending a 2016 American Telemedical Association meeting. Clark — who at the time was working as a Dallas-area sales manager for biotech company Amgen — realized there was a dearth of behavioral and physical health businesses targeting young adults.
“We thought, ‘Where would [there] be a space in the market where we could do world-changing work and create an impact?’” Clark recollected to BHB. “‘What would the demographic be that would adopt this type of technology and care delivery method?’ We quickly landed on higher education because of those things.”
TimelyMD was launched the following year in 2017, with its first partner institution being Clark’s alma mater, Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. Today, TimelyMD’s platform serves more than 450,000 students nationwide, he said.
“One of the ways that we’re helping is by… encouraging institutions to really amp up specialized support for certain student populations, [like] students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, community college students [and] first generation college students,” Clark said.
TimelyMD’s virtual services are meeting student needs at a time when virtual mental health care is in high demand.
More than 60% of all TimelyMD visits since March 2020 have been for mental health support, compared to 10% prior to the pandemic, the company said. Even after the pandemic subsides and life goes back to normal, many will still require some sort of mental health assistance to deal with lingering trauma.
Clark says the company is especially set up to meet those needs going ahead.
“The stressors that were there pre-pandemic still exist around academics [and] holding it all together,” he said. “There was already such a need for behavioral health services, and then you add on the stress from a pandemic. I think that [there is] going to be a sharp increase in the demand for services.”