Facey Medical Group has partnered with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) to launch a three-year program at its Mission Hills clinic designed to provide additional resources and improve treatment outcomes for older adults who have been diagnosed with depression. Funded by a $375,000 grant from the Archstone Foundation, the new Senior Strength Initiative will assist primary care physicians and behavioral health specialists at the Facey clinic by adding two certified peer community workers to the patient care team.
Peer community workers are increasingly being viewed as a valuable component of treating depression in older adults, due to the fact that they are people from the community who usually share ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and life experiences with the community members they serve. More importantly, they have personally experienced the behavioral health treatment journey themselves and can use that experience to help others who are undergoing treatment.
Facey Medical Group is an affiliate of Providence Health & Services and its Mission Hills location is one of six clinics in the Providence system working to integrate behavioral health specialists into the primary care setting. Providence leadership selected Facey’s clinic as the pilot site for peer community workers in part because of the clinic staff’s eagerness to employ peer support services, as well as ethnic diversity of the patient population served. In 2017, seniors age 65 and older accounted for 29 percent of all primary care visits at the clinic. Facey physicians currently treat about 5,800 Medicare patients at the location. The team at Facey hopes to touch at least 250 lives over the project’s three-year duration.
“The Senior Strength Initiative is an important step toward building a better safety net for adults living with depression,” says Karen Rentas, Ph.D., the clinical psychologist leading Facey’s integration of primary care and behavioral health services. “Individuals who have themselves experienced mental health challenges can support others in their community with a unique perspective that is grounding and real. They’ve tapped into resources, they know what worked and what didn’t, and they can empathize in a way that’s meaningful.”
Dr. Rentas is one of the many at Facey who believe peer community workers will be a powerful tool in the battle with age-related depression, and one that the doctors at Facey will readily embrace in their practice. She’s optimistic the Senior Strength Initiative also will have an impact in other clinics within the Providence health system once data on its effectiveness begin to roll in. The groundwork for integrating of primary care and behavioral health already has been laid at six Providence primary care clinics thanks to a grant from the Well Being Trust, and Providence is planning to continue funding the pilot after those funds expire in summer 2019.
“Fighting depression requires a comprehensive strategy,” says Dr. Rentas. “Your primary doctor can’t help you do it on their own. We’re in a unique position because we’ve had therapists right across the hall from internists for years, but that doesn’t mean we are all treating the whole person, together. Intentional, integrated care can make a huge difference and we’re working ensure our patients receive better care with the help of peer community workers. We have to take care beyond our own walls if we want to close gaps in care and help our patients build therapeutic relationships that increase their self-esteem and confidence.”
Later this year DBSA, along with Dr. Rentas, will train the Facey clinic staff on the value of peer community workers as part of a patient’s care team and provide wellness tools for use with patients. The peer community workers are scheduled to join the team at Facey in September 2018 and will then begin actively working with patients in their homes and community. They also will assist with patient outreach and education efforts.