Providing Behavioral Health Services To Rural Counties

Jodi Daly, Ph.D. Comprehensive Healthcare President & CEO

Comprehensive Healthcare serves many rural counties in Washington State. Providing behavioral health services to rural communities involves unique challenges. Comprehensive Healthcare, CEO, Jodi Daly, Ph.D., elaborates on the unique challenges and the opportunities that are part of delivering behavioral healthcare to rural communities.

How are the Disparities Between Rural and Urban Healthcare Identified?

Each year, county health rankings present data across our country that serve as a “call to action” for the development of initiatives that improve local whole person health. The purpose of these rankings is to draw attention to areas that need development and inform stakeholders of differences in a wide variety of community concerns such as education, the economy, technology and healthcare. This approach can be seen as controversial, but it also can lead to sharing of experiences and information that guide health initiatives to positively impact populations and health outcomes. In general, most county health rankings call our attention to the disparities between rural, frontier, and urban community resources.

Behavioral health is a crucial component of physical health and development. We know that the onset of behavioral health challenges often occur in childhood. The need to ensure that children are afforded resources for healthy development is critical to the social and economic impact of our communities. Persons who live in rural communities often have health-related disparities, including poorer health, lifestyles that increase risk, and less access to resources than those that live in urban areas. Unfortunately, rural areas tend to be underfunded and underserved and, therefore, lack resources to develop and sustain strong infrastructures.

What Are the Unique Healthcare Needs of Rural Communities?

Comprehensive Healthcare has served the behavioral healthcare needs in rural areas for 47 years. We have learned that rural areas experience unique obstacles such as the need to overcome geographic and physical access barriers, strengthen the rural behavioral health workforce, and address the common barrier of fear and stigma. We are fortunate to have incredible staff members who work in our rural/frontier offices who truly value their communities and strive to provide excellent care. These staff engage in the challenging, noble work of providing community-based safety net services in the communities in which they live.

Are Local Partnerships Part of the Answer?

Comprehensive Healthcare is fortunate to have good working relationships with local community partners such as hospitals, schools, colleges and universities, law enforcement agencies, federally qualified healthcare clinics and a wide variety of social and health service programs. Additionally, Comprehensive Healthcare works alongside our Fully Integrated Managed Care (FIMC) partners to ensure funding opportunities are explored to address potential barriers to care. These partnerships are particularly imperative in rural areas because it takes this “web” of partners to ensure that people are supported and assisted in their treatment, and sustained in their recovery.

Is Telehealth a Useful Tool in Delivering Rural Healthcare?

The use of innovative technologies in rural areas is crucial to address geographic barriers, isolation and access to care issues. Comprehensive Healthcare utilizes telepsychiatry tools to improve access to quality medication management services, and just recently we partnered with both Klickitat rural hospitals on piloting telehealth technologies for psychiatric emergency services. Having a remote connection to a medical provider improves access to care for clients who would otherwise have to travel long distances to receive the equivalent treatment. Telehealth can also improve the recruitment and retention of behavioral health providers in rural areas by creating a virtual network of professional peers to reduce rural practitioner isolation and burn out. Finally, telehealth allows Comprehensive Healthcare to provide training, support, clinical supervision, and consultation services to all providers across our geographically dispersed service areas.

What is Your Forecast for the Future of Rural Healthcare?

Although there are challenges, I am optimistic about the future of behavioral health service delivery in rural areas. I believe that local, state and federal partners are working together to develop policies that have the potential to reform healthcare while keeping an eye on the best interest of rural communities. I look forward to advocating for expanded opportunities for rural behavioral health training for students in graduate programs preparing for a career in behavioral health, and ensuring that college curricula include content on the culture of rural behavioral health practices. Additionally, Comprehensive Healthcare is utilizing system transformation funds to develop recruitment strategies that are long-lasting and beneficial to our communities. We are piloting various projects to determine which programs best benefit rural communities through healthcare integration efforts. There are barriers and opportunities when it comes to providing high quality and accessible services to rural areas. I am confident that the relationships we develop in the communities we serve will help us to capitalize on the opportunities and overcome the barriers. In order to be successful in delivering behavioral healthcare we need to be able to leverage the strengths found in rural communities – strong informal support networks, cohesiveness, established interdependence and a willingness to pitch in and help out. Comprehensive Healthcare is committed to forging strong collaborative relationships with all of our community stakeholders because we know we cannot operate in isolation and we truly know “it takes a village”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *