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Mental Health Programs Gaining Momentum

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   May 31, 2016

"In a fee-for-service system, it's very hard to justify expanding psychiatric services," says one expert. "But reducing length of stay is a compelling statistic when you're talking to a hospital administrator."

By the end of July, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore hopes to have six behavioral health teams working side-by-side with physicians and nurses to help manage the mental health of patients.

The ambitious plan aims to prove that investing in behavioral health specialists is good for patients and the bottom line.

Patrick "Pat" Triplett, MD, clinical director and physician advisor at Johns Hopkins Hospital, says that two months ago, getting a psychiatric consult request during a patient's discharge was common. "We were really only responding to emergencies," he says.

Related: Forcing the Conversation on Behavioral Health

Now, in a pilot program on three general medicine floors, Triplett is part of a three-member behavioral intervention team (BIT) that screens patients for mental and behavioral health shortly after they're admitted.

A leading nonprofit health system is aggressively pursuing a proactive strategy toward mental health care for patients to reduce length of stay and readmissions.

"The goal is to be able to intervene early," Triplett says. "We're in on day one instead of day five."

Triplett is also overseeing the expansion of an additional five BITs at the hospital by the end of July. Currently, the BIT is made up of Triplett, who serves as a half-time psychiatrist for the team, a full-time nurse practitioner and a full-time social worker.

When the BIT program is fully rolled out later this summer, Triplett says the team structures will be similar, but will include two behavioral specialists, either a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) or a social worker with psychiatric expertise.

Jacqueline Fellows is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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