A More Accessible Approach to Mental Healthcare



Photo by Tracy Doyle

 

According to a 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation study, 73 percent of Americans consider a lack of access to mental healthcare a major problem. Many patients give up before receiving any treatment after finding the process too confusing or too limited. It can take several weeks to get an appointment with a mental health counselor, and even longer for a psychiatric evaluation. While local emergency rooms can provide acute care in a mental health emergency, affiliated hospitals are often not equipped to handle ongoing care or provide appropriate referrals.

The Lindner Center of HOPE is stepping in to make the process of navigating the psychiatric healthcare landscape more efficient and more effective, with the launch of its new Rapid Access Service (RAS).

“Think urgent care for mental health,” says Dr. Nelson Rodriguez, staff psychiatrist and one of the doctors overseeing the new program. “What if, instead of 8 to 12 weeks, we could provide within a few days, a thorough psychiatric evaluation and even start treatment right away? RAS allows us to do that.”

Patients who come in for the 2½-hour assessment are evaluated by a psychiatrist, counseled by a social worker and leave with a thorough care plan tailored to their needs. Next steps might include a referral to a counselor for ongoing therapy, a prescription for an appropriate medication or a recommendation that the patient enter an inpatient treatment program.

Jennifer Pierson, senior director of Marketing and Outreach, says the RAS program brings some simplicity to a process that is often confusing and overwhelming for people experiencing mental health issues. “Psychiatry is complex,” she says. “We have a dedicated team that can get you in pretty quickly and give you recommendations when you start to have symptoms like anxiety, depression or agitation. This is a resource you can turn to like you might turn to the ER or urgent care to determine if you have the flu or if it’s something worse.”

The stigma surrounding mental illness often adds an additional barrier for people who might be considering whether to seek treatment. This factor, coupled with waiting times that can stretch into months for an initial appointment with a psychiatrist, leads to a great deal of untreated mental health issues. Dr. Rodriguez says these factors are a large part of what appealed to him about the RAS program. “Patients can lose enthusiasm for seeking treatment. Having options where they can come in when they are ready means we can strike while the iron is hot.”

Charles Brady, PhD, clinical director of Outpatient Services and a staff psychologist, was drawn to the program for similar reasons. “Accessibility to community care is so important. It is so difficult to access psychiatric care, and that problem inspires me to be here. We can help solve that problem with RAS.”

The benefits don’t end when the RAS assessment is over. Lindner Center social workers follow up with patients to ensure they are taking the recommended steps and feel confident about their treatment plan.

Brady says the program helps patients navigate a healthcare system that is far from user-friendly. “The connections patients make here are helpful in many ways. This can be a scary situation. You don’t expect to seek mental health services, so having a guide can be a big relief.”

Lindner Center of HOPE is located at 4075 Old Western Row Road, Mason, OH 45040. For more information, call 513.536.0639 or visit www.lindnercenterofhope.org.