Colorado’s Mental Health Crisis: Innovative Services Poised to Improve Health Equity & Access
How behavioral home care providers are filling critical gaps and stopping the current churn for patients struggling with complex mental health issues.
Colorado is facing a mounting mental health crisis made worse by the unprecedented staffing and economic pressures in the wake of the pandemic. The state currently ranks 45th nationally when it comes to access to behavioral healthcare. The state must start implementing different antidotes to the problem, including long-term behavioral home care for patients.
In Colorado Springs, more than 18 percent of adults reported having experienced a behavioral health disorder in the last year and 43 percent of patients who needed those mental health services reported not being able to receive the care they needed. If people cannot access treatment, they cycle in and out of emergency rooms or mental health facilities, which results in fractured care, frustrated healthcare workers, and high healthcare costs.
Specialized behavioral healthcare needed
As a clinician for almost 30 years and the CEO of a behavioral home healthcare company for over two decades, I can tell you first-hand that without a system in place to support long-term behavioral health patients out of the hospital, people will not get better, and this crisis will continue. In far too many cases they are taking up hospital beds they don’t necessarily need, or worse, they aren’t receiving care at all.
When we started our operation in Massachusetts, the same problem existed (albeit on a smaller scale). Our model provides in-home behavioral care to complex patients and currently conducts around 20,000 patient visits per week across the state. An example of a patient we serve is a 55-year-old male identifying and suffering from severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. They also typically suffer from up to twenty comorbidities or complications. They are additionally among the highest-cost patients in the healthcare system who take up to 10-15 medications and often live in communities with less access to care.
Without home-based or community behavioral health services, these patients would utilize the hospital or emergency rooms as the primary care physicians-sometimes up to 15 times a year at an enormous cost. For example, a single hospitalization costs, on average, about $38,000, whereas an entire year of our in-home services costs $25,000. In most cases, hospitalization could be 98 percent preventable with the right home care infrastructure in place, e.g., using technology to assess patients in their homes, sharing cohesive electronic medical records to help treat them, and assigning a clinician to help administer their medication and take their vitals.
Expanding to address Colorado’s mental health crisis
We recently expanded our services to Colorado Springs because we believe this innovative home healthcare model is filling a critical gap for this patient population, which in turn will have an immediate impact in treating underserved patients in Colorado. For example, in Colorado Springs, there is a higher prevalence of severe mental illness — 10 percent — compared to Colorado’s statewide average of 6 percent.
It is also critical to have the right policies in place, and Colorado lawmakers have demonstrated a commitment to behavioral health reform plans by earmarking $547 million to ensure more access to the continuum of care that the highest cost drivers require. This strategy will ensure interconnectivity on quality, payment, accountability and provider standards that have population health at the center of the thought process. We are hopeful that health equity will remain at the core of Colorado’s vision and that state leaders will work together to implement innovative solutions for vulnerable patients who are disproportionately impacted by social, economic and environmental issues that have downstream clinical impacts.
We have seen firsthand how home healthcare can remove the social barriers to continuing care and reduce the chances that untreated mental illness leads to other traumas like addiction, homelessness and even incarceration. Also, since multiple studies have shown home healthcare reduces readmissions to hospitals, behavioral home healthcare can help save the state of Colorado up to $200,000 a year per patient, improve patient outcomes, and take pressure off the healthcare system.
Home healthcare services can keep patients in their homes and in a more stable, compassionate environment. We look forward to working within the healthcare system to effectively reach and serve this patient population in Colorado that too often unfortunately goes without the care they need and deserve.
Joseph McDonough is the CEO of Innovive Health, which recently expanded into Colorado with clinical operations out of Colorado Springs