Johnson Memorial focusing on mental, behavioral services

An assessment of health care needs in Johnson County found that behavioral health care, including treating anxiety and depression, was the No. 1 local need.

Now, patients struggling with those issues, along with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, automatically will be connected with treatment as part of a new Johnson Memorial Health pilot program.

The goal is to make sure that behavioral health services are easily accessible and that the community is aware of the treatment options available to them, Johnson Memorial Health president and chief executive officer Larry Heydon said.

After an assessment of the community’s needs, the Johnson Memorial Health Foundation decided to invest the money raised in its annual gala — about $120,000 this year — toward behavioral health care, foundation executive director Jennifer Tennell said.

Half of the money will go toward increasing outpatient behavioral health care services, and another 25 percent is going toward inpatient services, including adding more bed space in the Franklin hospital for patients with mental health care needs, Heydon said.

One key goal is to get patients who are struggling with common mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, from their primary care doctor to behavioral health care as quickly as possible. That is why the health network has added a navigator from Adult and Child Health, which provides mental health services, to its doctors offices, Heydon said.

Starting this week, a community health worker with Adult and Child will be embedded into one Johnson Memorial Health family practice, and that person’s job will be to identify patients who may have mental health care needs and get them connected with behavioral health care services, which can be a tough transition, said Dan Arens, Adult and Child director of community health.

Their goal is to expand the program to other practices in the future, he said.

“This is a cutting edge program. Most mental health centers don’t have the opportunity to partner like that,” Arens said.

The other key use of the money raised is in promoting awareness of the need for behavioral healthcare, officials said.

Since the gala earlier this year and in preparation for the next one early next year, Tennell repeatedly has heard stories from people about family members, friends and acquaintances affected by mental illness, she said.

Talking about it helps break the stigma surrounding mental health, which is important, especially since other key health issues, such as diabetes or cancer, don’t carry that same stigma, Tennell said.

“That was one of the goals. Let’s talk about it and get help, lean on each other for support,” she said.

That’s why another 10 percent of the money raised is going to awareness and education, ranging from advertising campaigns, to small group education and working with school employees to be able to identify the signs when students are struggling, Tennell and Heydon said.

Money raised in next year’s gala will also go toward the same cause, they said.

“That also helps break the stigma. People are talking about it, and are passionate and excited about raising money,” Tennell said.

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.