SILVER SPRING – Two health centers in the county received federal funding to expand efforts that provide medical and behavioral help to those on the fringes.
Community Clinic Inc. Health and Wellness Services of Silver Spring and Mobile Medical Care Inc. in Bethesda each received $167,000 as part of a $2.4 million grant that went to organizations throughout Maryland that are working to curb the opioid crisis and other mental health and substance abuse problems.
“These federal funds will help our communities address the opioid epidemic and take care of our people caught up in this terrible health crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8).
“We need massive federal investment in community health centers across America to turn the tide. We are in a public health emergency that demands robust, comprehensive and urgent action from the federal government,” Raskin wrote in a press release announcing the grants.
Neither of the two medical facilities will be using the federal funds strictly to tackle the opioid crisis. Instead, their facilities will place even-greater emphasis on integrating medical and behavioral problems to get at the root of issues that often lead to drug and alcohol abuse, depression and other woes.
Mobile Medical Care operates in three centers, three traveling vans and two offices in homeless shelters throughout the county. Its goal is to improve the health of low-income people who face barriers in accessing care. It serves as a primary care facility for about 4,700 low-income adults who make 16,600 visits annually.
“We are a community health center in Montgomery County with multiple sites in Montgomery County, all dealing with primary health screening and doing what we can for our patients with challenges,” said Peter Lowet, executive director.
The money will be used to deal with “the whole spectrum of mental health issues,” he said.
Last year, Mobile Medical Care started SBIRT Screening, – Brief Intervention, Referral and Treatment. Anyone coming to the clinic for a medical problem will be screened for behavioral issues as well through this program as well which will be expanded using the new federal dollars.
“We want to make sure we screen broadly,” Lowet said. If someone comes in for depression, anxiety or trauma, the screening could get to the root of the problem and enable doctors to treat that as well, he said.
If any problems are found, the patient will be sent to another medical professional within its health centers to deal with the additional issue, Lowet explained.
Mobile Medical is also adding a behavioral health therapist and a half-time case manager with the funding, he said.
“We are very excited to have more federal dollars for integrated health,” he said.
“Philosophically, we are great believers in considering mental health as well as physical health and somatic disorder(s),” he said.
While the grant is partially designed to curb opioid abuse, Lowet’s centers see more people with alcohol abuse issues than opioid addiction, he said.
Community Clinic operates much of the same way. It assists 33,000 underinsured or uninsured people in Montgomery County and the northern part of Prince George’s County and has 13 locations, five of which also offer dental services.
Money from the grant will be used to increase services to expand access to behavioral health services, explained Jessica Wilson, development director.
A licensed clinical social worker will be hired with some of the funding, she said.
Some of the funds also will be used to expand Community Clinic’s Eprescribe program, which is a computer software network for medical providers, pharmacies and benefit managers so that everyone is aware of a patient’s medical history, insurance coverage and all medications.
“It’s really just a more-secure way” of prescribing medicines, Wilson said.
Community Clinic will expand its clinical psychology testing, group therapy and individual counseling services, as well.
The idea, Wilson explained, is when medical staff members believe their patients need behavioral or mental health services as well, the patients would be sent to another office without delay.
“It’s a real time, warm handoff,” Wilson explained.
All these efforts are designed to improve the health of Maryland’s needy, noted U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats.
The $2.4 million will help health centers increase access to integrated mental health and substance abuse disorder services, they noted in a press release.
The funding was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration as part of the Integrated Behavioral Health Services program.
“Despite some progress and a lot of hard work, the opioid epidemic continues to devastate communities in Maryland and nationwide,” said Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Finance Health Care Subcommittee.
“What gives me hope are the innovative strategies I’ve witnessed around Maryland to serve individuals with the combination of services they need to ultimately overcome addiction. These federal funds will support our hardworking and dedicated local health centers in furthering that effort.”
Van Hollen added: “The opioid epidemic is ravaging our communities, and health centers are on the front lines of combating this scourge. This funding will give our community much-needed resources to treat people impacted by addiction – ultimately pulling them back from the brink and putting them on the path to a healthier life.”
Van Hollen, who is a member of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, noted the allocation “is just one part of the federal effort to tackle this public health crisis.”