Health systems and hospitals can boost their behavioral health programs by working with an external partner.
Having a shared vision is a key to success in behavioral health acute care joint partnerships, a pair of healthcare executives say.
Access to behavioral health services is a primary challenge for health systems and hospitals. Behavioral health acute care joint partnerships are a strategy to improve access to services.
Last year, Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport and Oceans Healthcare opened Louisiana Behavioral Health, a new 89-bed behavioral health hospital in Shreveport, as a behavioral health acute care joint partnership. In September 2021, Louisiana Behavioral Health established a 30-bed unit for behavioral health patients who also have a COVID-19 diagnosis.
A shared vision is critical for these kinds of partnerships, according to David Callecod, MBA, interim CEO of Ochsner LSU, and Stuart Archer, MBA, CEO of Oceans Healthcare.
"The most successful of these joint partnerships start with a shared vision. Behavioral health is a huge issue for many of the health systems and hospitals that we work with. With Ochsner LSU, we have a shared vision of the struggles and the necessity to address behavioral health patients and their needs at a level and in a fashion that all the other service lines have gotten, in terms of attention and resources," Archer says.
"A joint partnership starts with a shared vision of what we want to accomplish. In behavioral health, many of the patients, their families, and the communities that we serve do not have behavioral health resources. Many times, we have made it tough on patients and families to navigate behavioral health. Alignment from a goal perspective and a care perspective is the key thing that we look at when we think about these partnerships and their ability to be successful," Callecod says.
Foundation of Ochsner LSU and Oceans Healthcare joint partnership
From Ochsner LSU's perspective, Oceans Healthcare was an ideal partner to help open a standalone behavioral health hospital, Callecod says. "From a health system standpoint, the most important factor is to go through a deliberate process of looking at the companies that can meet your needs. Who are the organizations that have similar values and similar focuses on excellence and providing a great patient experience? It is also important to have a partner that is familiar with your market and the state in which you are located. Certainly, in our case, Oceans Healthcare being familiar with the unique challenges that the state of Louisiana represents was very important to us."
Plano, Texas-based Oceans Healthcare, which is one of the leading providers of behavioral health services in Louisiana, viewed Ochsner LSU as an attractive partner, Archer says. "From our perspective, the right partner is a nonprofit health system and mission-led organization with a commitment to outcomes and quality, not only in the traditional service lines, but also believing that behavioral health patients deserve the same resources, care, and attention. One of the biggest things that drew us to the Ochsner LSU organization is the commitment that they have to the communities they serve and how they view the needs of vulnerable populations."
Ochsner LSU needed a partner to boost the health system's behavioral health services, Callecod says. "At Ochsner LSU, we faced a unique challenge in that we had a 37-bed behavioral health unit that was based on the 10th floor of our Level 1 trauma center. So, our ability to grow that unit and get it to where it was state-of-the-art and best practice was impossible in the existing footprint. In doing this partnership and creating a free-standing facility, we were able to recapture those beds and use them for the acute care services that we needed to expand at the trauma center."
Opening Louisiana Behavioral Health has increased both the inpatient and outpatient capabilities of Ochsner LSU, Archer says. "These partnerships tend to focus on the inpatient beds—that is traditionally where some of our sickest patients receive their initial care after they come into an emergency room or another setting. Our partnership with Ochsner LSU has also expanded outpatient services dramatically. In the long term, expanding outpatient services is as important as anything that we do on the inpatient side. Through our partnership, we have added intensive outpatient services working to address the chronic mental health issues of our patients. Those outpatient services are only going to grow over time."
Decreasing emergency room utilization
Creating a standalone behavioral health hospital through a joint partnership will reduce emergency room utilization by behavioral health patients in Louisiana, Archer says.
"Over time, one of the biggest things that a joint partnership will do is normalize care. A family that needs behavioral health care can [now] directly access the behavioral health hospital. Law enforcement will see that they can bring a patient to another setting than the ER. Many of our patients are chronically mentally ill. Once a patient is enrolled in high quality outpatient therapy and has access to a prescriber, we have shown that we can reduce readmission to the ER even among the highest acuity patients by 50% to 75%. The inpatient care with access to outpatient therapy wrapping around the patient is a one-two punch that helps to reduce ER utilization," he says.
A key to success for the Louisiana Behavioral Health joint partnership between Ochsner LSU and Oceans Healthcare is shared governance, Archer says.
"One of the best practices that we have in our partnership is a shared governance strategy. We make decisions together—not just financially but also clinically. We strive to be integrated in the approach that we take. For example, we are on the same electronic medical record, so patients have a seamless experience. We can extract data and experiences from previous times they have been at Ochsner LSU facilities. With our governance structure, it is a true partnership. We have a shared governance board, with members from both partners. We make decisions jointly, whether it be leadership decisions, care decisions, or programs that we want to roll out. We have a shared budget that we work together on, including capital expenditures," he says.
Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.
From a health system standpoint, the most important factor in these partnerships is to go through a deliberate process of looking at the companies that can meet your needs.
Behavioral health acute care joint partnerships can expand a health system's or hospital's inpatient and outpatient capabilities.
Shared governance is an important element of behavioral health acute care joint partnerships.