Mental Health America of Greater Houston (MHA) has received a $259,092 grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health to help accelerate and expand integrated health care in Texas by forming a statewide network of health care providers.
Integrated health care is gaining recognition in Texas as a viable way to improve people's health by treating physical and behavioral illnesses together. The 81st Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2196 creating a statewide work group to make recommendations on integrating physical and behavioral health care in Texas. The bill is now awaiting the governor's signature.
"There is a call in Texas and across the country to improve health care systems through integrated care," said Dr. Octavio N. Martinez Jr., executive director of the foundation. "People often experience physical and behavioral health problems concurrently and a strong body of evidence demonstrates that integrating physical and behavioral health care to treat the whole person has important benefits, especially to consumers."
A person's physical and mental health are linked, and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease often are accompanied by behavioral ailments such as depression or anxiety. Research has shown that people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder die an average of 25 years earlier than people without these disorders, largely due to challenges and obstacles in receiving medical treatment.
However, most organizations working on this critical issue are doing so in silos, with little sharing of lessons learned. Working in isolation leads to a slower pace of change and can inhibit the spread of effective practices. The foundation is promoting the learning community to accelerate implementation of best practices and identification of policy and financing solutions.
"As national dialogue focuses on healthcare reform, this is a critical time to expand availability and access to health care that takes into account the role mental wellness plays in overall health," said Betsy Schwartz, president and CEO of Mental Health America of Greater Houston. "Evidence shows that integrated health care can increase access to a more thorough level of care, improve physical and mental health, and potentially lower some health care costs."
MHA will work with the foundation during the next 18 months to design, launch and coordinate the statewide learning community. The learning community's members will be selected by the foundation through a request for proposals that will be issued later this year. Selected members will receive a grant from the foundation to help cover the cost of participation.
The learning community will reflect the cultural diversity of Texas and will recognize the importance of consumer and family involvement. Members will share a common goal of integrating health care and likely will test different models and strategies to achieve that goal. They will work together online and in person to share documents, stories, tools and resources they have found useful. Together they can raise questions, discuss issues and identify potential solutions that may work best for communities throughout the state.
"This project is an important piece of the framework needed to develop more effective health care systems that emphasize placing the patient at the center of a mind-body-spirit approach to health and healing," said Schwartz.
The learning community is the latest component of an integrated health care initiative launched by the foundation in 2006. Since then the foundation has funded $2.6 million in grants to promote the practice of integrated health care across Texas. The foundation also held a statewide conference on integrated health care in September 2008 and recently published a comprehensive overview of integrated health care services and research in Texas and the U.S.
"An ever-increasing body of evidence demonstrates integrated care is effective and could be the future of health care," said Martinez. "It has great potential to provide more personal, responsive care and to deliver better outcomes for consumers and the state's health care system."
The Hogg Foundation was founded in 1940 by the children of former Texas Governor James Hogg and is part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin. The foundation's grants and programs support mental health consumer services, research, policy analysis and public education projects in Texas.
Mental Health America of Greater Houston, one of the area's oldest mental health education and advocacy organizations, is focused on the mental health and wellness of all people.