FLORENCE, S.C. – Elected officials from Florence and Williamsburg counties visited HopeHealth’s behavioral health services during a recent legislative reception for a close look at the updated facilities.

The annual event, in its fourth year, provides legislators the opportunity to see firsthand how important community health centers (CHCs) and HopeHealth’s integrated care model is to their constituents.

“Integrated care models like ours are becoming increasingly important with each passing day,” said Farrah Hughes, director of behavioral health services. The team works “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the medical staff to address mental health difficulties, patients’ social needs and the behavioral components of chronic medical conditions.

“The treatment of chronic pain is a perfect example of the value of integrated care,” she said. “Our qualified medical providers, chiropractors and professional counselors work together to tailor treatment programs to patients’ needs,” she said.

Hughes noted that an integrated team approach also allows HopeHealth to overcome a number of barriers to care, including:

>> Reducing stigma.

>> Bringing expertise to the patient.

>> Services availability.

>> Identifying mental and behavioral difficulties.

>> Increasing communications with one medical record.

>> Providing all patients access to quality care regardless of ability to pay.

Dr. Lisa Lanning, a family medicine physician, said that the integrated model appeals to her as a way to address her patients’ needs while managing the volume of patients needing her care. Lanning highlighted the example of being able to “go one step further” in helping her patient who wanted to stop smoking by bring in a behavioral health counselor (BHC).

“I can call the BHC and I can say, ‘I need you to come and help this patient who is motivated to quit smoking, wants to quit, and knows she needs to, but I need you to take the time with her so I can help my next patient.’”

Dr. Lanning went on to explain that the integrated care model also helps providers.

“Studies have shown that doctors and patients who work together with integrated care have better outcomes and lower degrees of burnout,” she said. “My own emotional health is better, my physical health is better because I have help from our whole team.”

Beyond illustrating the quality and access to care provided by CHCs, the legislative reception was also an opportunity to reach out to law makers and elected officials for support on issues such as the Sept. 30 funding cliff and the lack of recognition for licensed professional counselors (LPCs) as independent providers within federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) such as HopeHealth.

“The way LPCs are designated in federally qualified health centers dismisses their clinical training and forces us to create a supervision structure that adds to our paperwork burden and takes time away from patient care,” Hughes said. “This is a key issue when it comes to patient access to behavioral health care. LPCs are able to practice independently in other settings. Why not community health centers?”

There are several ways in which the general public can also help support such community health center issues:

>> Become a patient – For every patient who has the means and insurance to receive care where they choose and selects HopeHealth, the health center is able to take care of someone who does not.

>> Donate to HopeHealth – The Compassionate Care Fund helps HopeHealth get its patients into specialized care not offered at HopeHealth and provides for emergency situations.

>> Become a health center advocate at hcadvocacy.org – Signing up as an advocate with the National Health Care Association lets our elected officials know you support community health centers and what the health center needs to do. Advocates occasionally receive an email to contact legislators and let them know the HopeHealth needs support for specific bills.

“Just as advocates are important to spread our message to elected officials, it is essential we have an opportunity to voice our opinion with our vote,” said Kimberly O. Johnson, HopeHealth director of legislative affairs. “There is power in numbers. Many local elections are decided by less than 100 votes. When we vote and get our family and friends to vote, we are better able to advocate for the necessary benefits in our community.”

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