Integration of Mental Health in Rural Areas

  • November 7, 2019

    Premera announced a $10 million investment in the UW Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science’s AIMS Center to support the integration of mental health services in primary care clinics across rural areas of Washington and Alaska.

    The AIMS Center (Advancing Integrated Mental Health Solutions) works to advance the research and implementation of collaborative care, a specific model of integrated care developed at the University of Washington to treat common and persistent mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

    “As the gap continues to widen between urban and rural health care access, we felt it was critical to partner with an entity with a proven track record of producing successful outcomes,” said Janet Sowards, M.A., LMHC, senior behavioral health clinician with Premera, who was part of a team that evaluated the UW AIMS funding request. “The center is at the forefront of collaborative care; and, like Premera, recognizes the importance of addressing mental health issues in improving health outcomes for patients.”

    “Premera’s grant is potentially life changing for thousands of people living in underserved rural communities across Washington and Alaska who otherwise might not have access to evidence-based mental health services,” said Diane Powers, MBA, MA, co-director of the AIMS Center.

    The AIMS Center will administer Premera’s investment in the form of grants to as many as 30 qualifying primary care clinics over the next four years, with clinics beginning to enroll patients into evidence-based integrated mental health care programs in spring 2020. Clinics seeking funding can learn more about the initiative and how to apply.

    “Stigma can be a big issue when it comes to seeking mental health services in rural communities. Research shows that integrating these services into primary care can reduce that stigma and get people in rural communities the help they need,” Powers added.

    According to a 2017 study from the National Rural Health Association, people living in rural areas suffer worse health outcomes than their urban counterparts. They are sicker, poorer, and experience higher rates of premature death, disability, and chronic disease. In Washington state, more than a million people, or 14 percent of the state’s population, live in rural communities.

    This Premera investment and partnership with the AIMS Center is part of a larger program to improve access to care in rural areas. Premera is focusing its investments in the following areas: physician, nurse, and health aide recruitment and training; clinical integration of behavioral health; provider-to-provider consultations to support isolated rural doctors; and programs to increase the capacity of mental health crisis centers in rural areas.

    Learn more about how Premera is investing in rural communities.

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