Combatting the costliest health condition in the world

January 29, 2018 Elaine Couture, Executive Vice President, CEO PH&S Washington & Montana Region

What is the costliest health condition in the world? It’s not cancer or heart disease, but mental illness, a problem impacting one in five American adults.


We’re starting 2018 by taking a stand – this is the year we make mental wellness reality.
I hope you’ll join us on January 31 when we host former U.S. Representative and mental health advocate, Patrick Kennedy, as the keynoter for the “Making Mental Health Essential Health,” at our annual complimentary community forum in Spokane. Details are at the end of this post.

First, some important information about this critical issue.


Although it’s a lovely place to live, our region is not immune to mental health and addiction problems. The statistics are sobering:

  • The suicide rate in Eastern Washington and Montana is drastically higher than the national average, with Montana having the third highest suicide mortality rate in the country;
  • More than a third of our teens (Spokane and Stevens counties and Montana) use or abuse alcohol; and
  • More than a fourth of our teens suffer from depression.


As a health system, we see these issues every day in our emergency departments. Mental illness and substance abuse go undiagnosed for too long. They destroy careers, families and can cause devastating health concerns and disabilities. The time has come to prevent and diagnose problems long before they become life-threatening.


Because the issue is so massive, we realize we can’t fix it alone.
That’s why our health system is addressing mental health with strong partnerships – locally and nationally. Successful partnerships strengthen our capacity to broaden our reach, engage various stakeholders, provide more effective service delivery and change policy. Sounds like a good strategy? We certainly think so, which is why Providence Health Care in Eastern Washington has established several important partnerships to achieve better mental health in our communities. Here are a few examples of our outpatient, inpatient and community services and partnerships:


  • 16-bed outpatient facility: Providence, in partnership with Northeast Washington Alliance Counseling Services, opened a 16-bed outpatient facility at Providence Mount Carmel Hospital in Colville last year. The evaluation and treatment center is designed to keep people close to home during care, so they stay in the community and enjoy a better chance of success.


  • 100-bed hospital campus: This fall, Providence and Universal Health Services/Fairfax Behavioral Health are set to open a 100-bed hospital on the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital campus in Spokane. The facility will provide outpatient and short-term inpatient care for children and adults in Eastern Washington, increasing the number of behavioral health hospital beds in the community by 72.


  • Telepsychiatry program: Providence Sacred Heart has also greatly expanded access to mental health care by developing a full telepsychiatry program which provides psychiatric consult for pediatric and adult patients. 


  • Outpatient behavioral health services in primary care clinics: Approximately 30-40 percent of people with chronic illness also suffer from depression. Providence Medical Group, in an effort to get upstream of the need for hospitalization, has added an outpatient behavioral health program within its primary care clinics. The program screens patients for anxiety and depression, and brings together the resources of a care team to provide appropriate care to those in need.


  • Providence Psychiatry Residency Program:  We know that typically doctors stay in the communities in which they complete their residency training.  Providence established a psychiatry residency for new doctors wanting to specialize in psychiatry to help improve access to specialized physicians.


  • House of Charity clinic: In Spokane, we worked with local volunteers to open a newly expanded House of Charity Clinic offering medical and behavioral health care to the underserved.  Services are provided by a volunteer team of doctors and nurses and now, with expanded hours, we can serve more than twice as many patients.


  • RISE outpatient program: Also, this spring, Providence will launch a new outpatient program on the Providence Holy Family Hospital campus in Spokane. RISE, which stands for resources, insight, support and empowerment, will provide group and individual counseling sessions for patients during the day, allowing them to return home in the evening and use the tools they’ve learned to start rebuilding their lives and relationships.


We believe all of these efforts will help make our communities stronger and healthier. But, to be candid, it is critical that we acknowledge that we’re certainly not there, yet. That’s why we need to continue to talk openly about mental health issues and band together to help those in need.

Please join us to address this illness
I hope you’ll join us January 31 as we partner with former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy who, after experiencing mental health and addiction concerns in his own family, became a lifelong advocate for better care. The complementary event is presented by Providence Health Care and Eastern Washington University, at the Spokane Convention Center. Doors open 5 – 6 p.m., with the keynote presentation and panel of local experts following from 6 – 8 p.m.


Together, we can make 2018 the year we truly address one of our greatest health concerns in the country and in our community.


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