FORT POLK, La. –
Behavioral health consultants in primary care clinics at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital aim to better address the mental and physical health of service members, Families, and retirees at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Col. Anthony Noya, chief of BJACH’s patient centered medical home, said the Defense Health Agency has recognized the link between our behavior and mindset as it relates to our overall health.
“The primary care behavioral health program provides additional resources to our clinicians and our patients who would benefit from additional services related to the behavioral aspect of their health,” he said. “PCBH is a force multiplier in the field of primary care and it is a quintessential tool for us as we strive to ensure access to safe, high quality care for our beneficiaries emphasizing outcomes and readiness.”
According to health.mil, the PCBH approach used by BJACH is standardized across the Department of Defense, integrating behavioral health services with specially trained personnel in patient centered medical homes.
Anna Pinkelman, licensed clinical social worker and a behavioral health consultant at BJACH PCMH, said it is a team-based primary care approach to manage behavioral health problems and influence health conditions from a biopsychosocial viewpoint.
“The main goal of the program is to enhance the primary care team’s ability to manage and improve health conditions utilizing low-intensity and brief interventions,” she said. “I can deliver preventative care that might be a secondary result from a physical health condition. I develop a treatment plan in conjunction with the primary care manager and extend services that may not be accomplished during an appointment.”
Pinkelman said in addition to addressing mental health symptoms, she can assist with pain, sleep, preventive care needs, chronic disease, and other social problems.
“As a behavioral health consultant, I function as a generalist and educator who provides easily accessible services. At BJACH, I can treat any patient aged 11 years old and up. I strive to intervene with all patients in a consultative role during the same day of their primary care visit,” she said.
“As a primary care extender and consultant, I can assist by engaging patients in treatment to identify behaviors that impede their care or bring awareness of day-to-day symptoms or behaviors that impair their quality of life.”
Pinkelman said identifying factors and behaviors that contribute to poor or inadequate disease management can support a reduction of emergency room visits, need for extensive specialty referrals and decrease chances of worsening symptoms.
Sharon Hitchens, LCSW at the Fontaine Troop Medical Clinic, said there has always been a connection between physical and mental health. When patients become aware of the connection, motivation to improve their overall health is enhanced.
“As a BHC, I educate patients on that connection,” she said. “Patients are referred to me for complaints about anxiety, depression, pain, family or relationship problems, headaches, anger, stress and tobacco cessation, but sleep problems are by far the most common referrals I receive.”
Hitchens said patients are typically referred by any health care provider in their primary care clinic, but they can be referred by other clinics, they can refer themselves or they can refer others.
“A warm hand off between the provider and a PCBH is encouraged but not always possible,” she said. “Patients can make appointments while at the clinic.”
Hitchens said being a PCBH is rewarding.
“I’ve seen patients improve daily functioning after two to four short visits in their primary care clinic,” she said. “By having us in primary care clinics, we make it easier for patients to access behavioral health resources. Sometimes we provide a gateway to more traditional psychotherapy treatment if needed.”
Hitchens said some patients would never agree to specialty behavioral health services without the recommendation from their primary care manager.
“Primary care behavioral health consultants help to decrease the stigma of receiving behavioral health services,” she said.
Editor’s Note: To schedule an appointment at primary care behavioral health, stop by the front desk at your primary care clinic or call 337-531-3011.