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Mental health center offers one-stop services

For people coping with depression or hallucinations, just making it to a mental health appointment can be a challenge.

Adding another trip to fill a prescription for an antidepressant or antipsychotic can feel overwhelming.

That’s why the new Bryson Center in Medford offers mental health care plus an on-site pharmacy.

Pharmacy workers can take extra time to talk to patients about how to use their medications and stay on track with a treatment plan.

“You get mental health treatment and you can pick up your medication. When our members go out into the community, they sometimes face stigma. Here we have an environment where everyone understands what the patient is going through. It takes the barriers down,” said Freddy Sennhauser, vice president of marketing and communications for AllCare Health.

AllCare, a provider of Oregon Health Plan benefits in Jackson County, contracts with Options for Southern Oregon to provide mental health care for children and adults.

Options opened its new Bryson Center for integrated care in July at 200 Beatty St., located just off busy Central Avenue on the site of a former car dealership.

The center offers traditional outpatient mental health care such as therapy and psychiatric medications.

But it also offers dental check-ups and cleanings, parenting education, support services to get a job or go to college, PTSD therapy for veterans, physical health checks and more.

The center helps break down the separation between mental, physical and dental health care to improve the overall health of patients, Sennhauser said.

Patients might get their blood pressure and weight checked, or be referred to a dental hygienist, said Karla McCafferty, executive director of Options for Southern Oregon.

“Therapists don’t just hear about mental health,” she said. “They hear about physical health issues and dental pain.”

The mental health community has long recognized the value of peer mentors — people who learned to cope with their own mental health issues who can provide support and encouragement to others.

Options offers peer mentors, but has taken the concept a step further with wellness mentors. People with mental health issues plus a physical health problem, such as obesity or high blood pressure, can be paired up with a peer mentor who is dealing with the same issues.

“It’s a really different way of doing things,” McCafferty said.

Oregon recognized a decade ago that separating physical, mental and dental health care led to worse outcomes for patients — and was more expensive, Sennhauser said.

“A person with mental health issues who couldn’t get care would wind up in the emergency room. It was a mental health issue, but it was billed as a physical health issue,” he said.

The state tasked coordinated care organizations with integrating care and controlling costs for low-income residents on the Oregon Health Plan.

The federal Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, expanded the number of people eligible for government-subsidized health insurance, including the Oregon Health Plan. It also boosted mental health coverage.

Sennhauser said about 40,000 to 45,000 Jackson County residents gained Oregon Health Plan coverage due to the expansion. The federal government pays 90% of the cost, with the state picking up the remaining 10%.

“Many, many dollars flowed into the community to help folks who weren’t getting help before or who went to the emergency room. It changed thousands and thousands of lives just in Jackson County,” Sennhauser said.

The boom in health care coverage didn’t come without growing pains — especially for mental health care, which historically lagged far behind actual need.

AllCare and the other coordinated care organization operating in Jackson County, Jackson Care Connect, contracted with Jackson County Mental Health to provide care for a growing load of patients.

But in 2017, AllCare and Jackson Care Connect started moving their mental health patients to new providers, triggering layoffs of about 200 people in Jackson County government.

AllCare chose Options for Southern Oregon, while Jackson Care Connect went with ColumbiaCare for adults, and Kairos for kids.

Sennhauser lauded the work done by Jackson County mental health workers, but said patients often faced long wait times to get appointments.

“We never had an issue with the quality of the care. The issue was the timeliness of our members getting access,” he said.

Athena Goldberg, behavioral health director for AllCare, said more patients are getting in for mental health treatment since AllCare switched to Options.

For example, Options has been able to get twice as many children in for mental health services, she said.

Jackson County Mental Health continues to provide 24-hour mental health crisis services for everyone, regardless of insurance status.

Two years ago, when the massive transition of patients to new providers started, there was a spike in the number of people seeking crisis services, said Rick Rawlins, crisis and outreach services manager for Jackson County Mental Health.

As the transition unrolled, the spike lessened but numbers remain elevated, he said.

Rawlins said people are sometimes confused about whether they should see Jackson County Mental Health, Options, ColumbiaCare or Kairos for care.

“It’s been a couple of years now since the main transition occurred,” he said. “The initial challenge of transitioning caused stress and anxiety for people caught up in that. But things have smoothed out since then. There’s still confusion when people are entering the system with things like, ‘Where do I go? Who do I see?’”

Goldberg, the behavioral health director for AllCare, said both AllCare and Jackson Care Connect have invested in services to prevent mental health issues from escalating to crisis levels.

If an AllCare member does seek crisis services, AllCare has a goal to reach out to that member within three days to get them enrolled in mental health care as soon as possible, Goldberg said.

She and Sennhauser said AllCare is happy with how quickly Options sees patients.

McCafferty, the executive director for Options, said the new Bryson Center accepts walk-in patients.

“We have an open-access model. People come in and request help and are seen that day. They are assessed, get a treatment plan and we arrange for follow-up,” she said.

McCafferty said Options knows being turned away can be devastating to a person already dealing with mental health issues.

“It’s hard for people to ask for help. If they get to the point where they ask for help but are turned away, they may not try again,” she said. “People are more likely to show up for appointments if you engage on the first contact.”

McCafferty said although Options serves AllCare members and ColumbiaCare serves Jackson Care Connect members, the mental health organizations have agreements to help each other’s patients — even if they show up at the wrong place.

ColumbiaCare opened a new clinic in downtown Medford in June with plans to open another clinic and pharmacy on Airport Road later in the summer.

Those projects amounted to a more than $5 million investment in treatment facilities.

McCafferty declined to disclose how much Options spent for its new building at the old car dealership site.

But she said numerous grants, including from the Carpenter Foundation and Oregon Community Foundation, paired with a low-interest mortgage from Banner Bank helped make the building possible.

McCafferty said Options was previously paying more to rent three properties in Jackson County than it pays now on the Bryson Center.

As patients continue to adapt to new locations for care, those familiar with mental health care said one thing will remain the same.

“The need is really huge out there,” Sennhauser said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

The new Options for Southern Oregon building at the former site of a car dealership is offering mental health services in downtown Medford. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune