Allentown News

Published on March 3rd, 2017

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St. Luke’s Introduces Behavioral Health Services at Primary Care Practices

A patient’s mental health can have a direct impact on physical health and vice versa. Stress, bereavement, depression and mental and emotional distress can cause serious physical strain; continuous stress can increase the risk of heart disease, depression and more. One in five adults suffers from some type of mental illness in a given year and only 44 percent of adults and less than 20 percent of children and adolescents actually get the treatment they need for mental and emotional health issues. The new integrated behavioral health program within St. Luke’s University Health Network’s primary care offices seeks to change that.

The goal of the integrated behavioral health program is to introduce and establish patients to behavioral and emotional therapy. Often patients seek help from their primary care physicians (PCP) as a first line of communication regarding mental health issues, which is why St. Luke’s started the behavioral health integration program, now available within nine primary care offices throughout the St. Luke’s network:

“Primary care physicians see more patients for depression and anxiety than psychiatry doctors do,” says Louis Cimorelli, DO, of St. Luke’s William Penn Family Practice Center. “So it makes sense to have this integrated behavioral health program seamlessly embedded into primary care. We have two behavioral health specialists dedicated to patients in our office and the other primary care offices in our region.”

Before the program began, doctors were frequently offering patients referrals to off site behavioral health specialists for issues like maintaining a healthy work/life balance, grief and bereavement, postpartum depression, anger management and ADHD, with anxiety, depression and panic attacks at the top of the list. Adolescent patients were most frequently referred for ADHD, ADD and anxiety issues. As the numbers for these health issues kept increasing, it became clear that in order for PCPs to offer more inclusive, collaborative care, they should facilitate treatment for the patient within the doctor’s office at which they are already comfortable and familiar.

When a primary doctor in the program sees a patient and it becomes evident that he or she might be helped by emotional or behavioral therapy, the PCP refers the patient for an evaluation and consultation with one of the specialists within the program. Adults as well as children have benefitted from this program since its inception over a year ago. “We’re hoping to see expansion of this program in the next few years,” says Dr. Cimorelli. “Therapy is so very important and we’re hoping to make it as easy as possible to get patients the help they need.”

For more information on the integrated behavioral health program contact Amie Allanson-Dundon, MS, LPC, CAADC, CCDP-D, BCPC, Clinical Supervisor at 484-526-3835 or amie.allanson@sluhn.org.


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