Melinda, 54, a longtime patient at Brookside Community Health Center, said the clinic’s recent addition of walk-in hours for behavioral health counseling has been a lifeline during a devastating time for her family.
Following her son’s murder in 2013, she spent the next several years battling grief and housing insecurity. For a while, she suffered in silence. That changed about five months ago. During a routine appointment, Melinda’s longtime Brookside primary care physician, Robert Hartley, MD, MSc, gently encouraged her to take advantage of the center’s behavioral health services. She was touched by his compassion.
“I didn’t really trust anyone but my doctor. Dr. Hartley showed so much concern for me, and he kept me going until I was ready,” said the Dorchester grandmother of five.
Since then, Melinda has been using the Integrated Behavioral Health Services pilot program to see a clinical social worker for counseling.
Launched in January through a collaboration between Brookside leadership and its behavioral health team, the program initially enabled any patient seen in the Medical Department to be connected to an Integrated Behavioral Health provider. Since then, the pilot has expanded to include weekday walk-in hours for patients who need immediate support. In addition, patients who need a referral to a psychiatrist can obtain an appointment within one week of the walk-in visit.
Connecting Body and Mind
After observing the roadblocks that prohibited patients from following through with their scheduled behavioral health appointments — such as lack of transportation, busy schedules or long wait times — the team wanted to create a program that would provide rapid access to care and allow patients to visit when it was most convenient for them.
In addition to walk-in hours, the behavioral health team maintains flexible availability for impromptu visits. For example, if a patient expresses interest in behavioral health services during a routine medical visit, a member of the team could be available to see the patient — a departure from the traditional model of providing a referral and having the patient come back later for an appointment.
“Sometimes, we can even do a really quick introduction if the patient doesn’t have time to sit with us that day,” said Kate Gasparrini, LICSW, a clinical social worker at the center. “We can talk with them about what we do and the services we offer and help them feel comfortable about coming back to see us at a later time during a walk-in visit.”
Katherine White, LMHC, a mental health counselor at Brookside, has worked closely with Gasparrini to launch the pilot. Newer to the Brookside practice, White said getting the program off the ground has helped her learn more about all the services available at the center and collaborate more often with providers.
“Through this pilot, we are reminding patients that your body and mind are connected,” she said. “Having behavioral health be integrated into their care routine is important.”
Victoria Hill, NP, an adult-geriatric nurse practitioner at Brookside, said the pilot has been extremely important in allowing medical providers to comprehensively serve patients.
“Many of our patients have been coming to Brookside for decades,” Hill said. “They trust Brookside and the people who work here. Therefore, it’s important that we are available to our patients to work with them through those difficult times when they need us. Having access to behavioral health providers in the moment is an example of how we can meet patients where they are and address their specific needs.”
Melinda said the walk-in model is well-suited to her needs, as it means she can receive care when she needs it most.
“The walk-ins are more accessible, and that availability is imperative, especially when you need to see a therapist,” she said. “Just having someone be available to listen is so important. I feel I’m in a much better, much stronger place today because of these services.”
Integrated Behavioral Health is open to current Brookside primary care patients. To learn more, call Mimi Jolliffe, executive director, at 617-983-6039. In the event of an imminent safety concern, such as suicidal or homicidal ideation, call 911 or go to your local emergency room.