UMass Memorial System Prioritizes Community Behavioral Health Services, Care Integration

Community is key for addressing behavioral health needs at UMass Memorial’s health system.

The Central Massachusetts-based system includes physical care, in-patient and outpatient psychiatric services and a number of community programs. Coordinating behavioral health care and providing step-down options for patients over time is essential to the health system’s approach.

One major component to the system’s behavioral health efforts is Community Healthlink, a behavioral organization within UMass Memorial focused on serving patients where they are.

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“We found that people respond very well to the notion of being able to connect with someone. It could be in their home and their schools, wherever they might be residing,” Tamara Lundi, president and CEO of Community Healthlink, told Behavioral Health Business. “And that is a way in which we can make those connections long-lasting, as opposed to just episodic.”

Community Healthlink currently serves over 22,000 clients, individuals and families every year – making it the largest behavioral health community in Central Massachusetts. UMass Memorial has deals with private insurers, Medicaid and Medicare plans. Its services range from early intervention to geriatric behavioral health care. The organization also provides substance use care and in-school collaboration.

“We also know that 90% of what impacts our overall health is outside of the brick and mortar,” Lundi said.

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Social determinants of health, which include a person’s housing, access to food, education and other factors, impact overall health.

Community HealthLink also partners with hospitals within the UMass Memorial system to provide a continuum of care. In 2021, community hospital the Harrington HealthCare System officially became part of UMass Memorial health system, becoming UMass Memorial Harrington. This brought to the table more in-patient and outpatient behavioral health services.

“I think it’s also this great opportunity to see if we can, as a system, really develop coordinated services and integrate those services so that any patient in Central Mass can come in and have access to any of those services,” Greg Mirhej, vice president of behavioral health at UMass Memorial Harrington Hospital, told BHB.

Mirhej serves on a committee with Lundi and clinicians at UMass Memorial’s flagship hospital UMass Medical to discuss providing services within the system.

“We’re looking at an inventory of all the services and trying to really identify where there are resources that could be better utilized and integrated within the system,” Mirhej said. “Where is there a duplication of services that we don’t really need to be duplicating? Where are there services that we need to try to figure out better access to? And then where are the service gaps in the various areas? And what do we do about that? How do we come together?”

Tamara Lundi, president and CEO of Community Healthlink. Photo courtesy of Umass Memorial.

Pediatric mental health remains a challenge and focus

The shortage of pediatric mental health providers and open beds for patients has been an issue across the country. According to the CDC, only 20% of children with a mental, emotional or behavioral health disorder receive care from a specialized care provider.

“If you look at the numbers of kids who are showing up in the emergency room, kids who are reporting depression and anxiety, kids with suicidal ideation, even completed suicides among latency-age kids, it’s been exponential,” Mirhej said.

Mirhej noted that his facility has over 300 children on the waiting list for outpatient services. Access to mental health services has also been a challenge for children in the community.

“School systems [are] overwhelmed with the number of kids who are presenting with mental health and substance use concerns, especially after the pandemic,” Lundi said. “I think that what we see now is a result of eyes not being on the chips for so long, and the impact that COVID has had on the ability for kids to get any services … and stay connected to those networks that will really support them before.”

Community Healthlink is looking to address the pediatric behavioral crisis in the community. It works with more than 30 schools to provide clinical care and case management support.

The service also has a youth mobile crisis intervention program, where a health care professional will go into the patient’s home, school or other community setting for crisis intervention services. With an eye on the autism space, Community Healthlink is working to stand up a community-based acute treatment facility focused on caring for children on the autism spectrum.

“I think there’s an opportunity there to help address those issues in the school system during a time where we really see the need,” Lundi said.

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