Their View: The case for integrated health care

Posted July 1, 2017

For those who have been inconvenienced by the construction taking place on the 300 block of South Franklin Street, my apologies.

Let me explain.

The Children's Service Center is embarking on its most significant expansion project since its founding 156 years ago. CSC is constructing a 17,622-square-foot comprehensive outpatient clinic and renovating its century-old clinic.

But it is not the building that is the expansion. It is the introduction of the region's largest integrated health care program for children and adolescents that is at the very heart of the construction.

In 2011, the board of directors and leadership — along with the CSC's psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists — began to study the idea of bringing a "medical home" for children and adolescents with behavioral health issues to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Substantive, national research coupled with regional and client demographics became the catalyst to introduce integrated health care as a preeminent service of the CSC. In early 2018, CSC with its partners, The Wright Center and Genoa Pharmacy, will introduce on-site physical, mental and pharmaceutical integrated health services to the nearly 6,000 low-income children and adolescents served annually. On-site, physicians, therapists and pharmacists will "talk" to each other through the use of integrated electronic medical records providing a team approach to consult on the best options to support the overall health needs of our young clients.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, mental and physical disorders are often co-occurring. The relationship between good physical and mental health is well documented by every major health organization and should not be thought of as different paths of treatment. Poor physical health often leads to mental health issues. Conversely, mental health issues lead to physical problems. Left untreated, children are extremely vulnerable to the risk of long-term health problems leading into adulthood.

Poverty is one of the most widespread and persistent health risks facing children today.

Research conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics inks childhood poverty with toxic stress that can "alter gene expression and brain function and contributes to chronic cardiovascular, immune and psychiatric disorders, as well as behavioral difficulties." When you consider that in Luzerne County alone, 28.8 percent of those under 18 live in poverty, the case for offering on-site, integrated physical, mental and pharmacy health services to lower income and poverty-level kids and teens of the Wyoming Valley who suffer from behavioral and health disorders is significant.

According to the Society for Research in Child Development, a challenge to a parent's ability to provide for the mental health needs of their children is the lack of "one-stop facilities that provide integrated health care and human services." Behavioral health conditions among children and youth today are occurring at an alarming rate and impact their overall growth and development as well as lead to early morbidity. SAMHSA's Center for Integrated Health Solutions (2013) research finds that "integrated care systems…are critical…and represent an approach to delivering care that comprehensively address the primary care, specialty care, and social support needs of children and youth in a continuous and family-centered manner."

Coupled with the health benefits, there is evidence that integrated health care programs provide an economic benefit as well. Market analyses from McKinsey & Company and others conclude that there is evidence that integrated care intervention can reduce the cost of long-term health care.

"All children and youth have the right to happy and healthy lives and deserve access to effective care to prevent or treat any mental health problems that they may develop" (American Psychological Association). The good news is that children with mental and emotional health disorders often improve when their physical health is treated.

So, to our clients, neighbors, friends, and frequent travelers along South Franklin Street, I apologize for the recent inconveniences of street closings, noise, delivery trucks and confiscated parking spots.

However, these short-term inconveniences will have remarkable benefits and meaningful outcomes for every child and family member who walks through the doors of the new CSC.

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