Department of Human Services officials visit Western Mental Health to hear about behavioral health home services

Photo by Deb Gau Jennifer Blanchard (second from left) and Nathan Moracco (at right), of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, met with area health providers and officials to hear how a new model of mental health care is being implemented in southwest Minnesota.

MARSHALL — A coordinated approach to mental health care is having positive results for area residents, care providers said Monday. And officials from the Minnesota Department of Human Services got a chance to see that approach in action, during a visit to Western Mental Health Center in Marshall.

DHS Assistant Commissioner Nathan Moracco, and DHS Community and Care Integration Reform Director Jennifer Blanchard, toured WMHC’s offices in Marshall and spoke with health care providers and patients. Their visit was focused on behavioral health home services, an approach meant to better care for people with serious mental illness.

Behavioral health home services is a model of mental health care that takes a team approach, area care providers explained. Team members work with clients to help them manage both their mental and physical health, and help them get access to resources that allow them to live independently.

“This is so important because all too often, people with serious mental illness experience barriers to accessing care, multiple health conditions and even early death,” Moracco said.

Blanchard said behavioral health home services were made possible by the Affordable Care Act. Under the ACA, states can establish “health homes” to coordinate health care for people enrolled in Medicaid. Minnesota focused on behavioral health for its health home service program, she said. The services are available to people who are enrolled in Medicaid, and have serious mental illness.

WMHC was one of the first 13 behavioral health home services providers certified by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. So far, 26 providers have been certified around the state, Blanchard said.

During Monday’s visit, Moracco and Blanchard heard testimonials from some of the southwest Minnesota residents who were helped by behavioral health home services. In addition to mental health care, clients were able to get individualized help affecting other parts of their lives, like nutrition education, or assistance searching for an apartment.

“We’re really focusing on the whole-health picture,” said Sarah Ackerman, executive director of Western Mental Health Center.

Behavioral health home services can also work with clients’ families or support systems, local care providers said.

Partnerships with area health care providers have also been important for behavioral health home services, officials said Monday. That’s another reason why it’s been positive to have services like Open Door Health Center co-located in the WMHC building in Marshall, Ackerman said.

Doug Jaeger, executive director of Open Door Health Center, said the move into offices in the WMHC building “was a natural progression” of their expanding services in southwest Minnesota.

In a round-table discussion with area health providers and officials, Moracco acknowledged the struggle to get legislators to understand the importance of mental health care funding. However, he said, “We’ll continue to fight for the program.”