Integration of Mental and Behavioral Health Care at Colorado Community Health Centers

Happy New Year! January is Mental Wellness Month, giving us ample opportunity to gear up for a happy and healthy 2016 by focusing on our own mental wellness, as well as through engaging in and learning about programs in our communities that provide behavioral and mental health care to those who need it. Millions of Americans struggle with mental illness, and adequate support in the form of behavioral and mental health services is lacking in many communities. Based on statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • 1 in 5 American adults in the U.S. will experience a mental illness.
  • ½ of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; ¾ by the age of 24.
  • 60% of adults with a mental illness did not receive mental health services in the previous year.
  • Colorado ranks 6th among states for its rate of suicide.


At Community Health Centers (CHCs) in Colorado, the integration of behavioral and mental health care into primary care clinics is a priority in underserved areas where alternative behavioral health resources can be hard-to-find or non-existent altogether. Of Colorado’s 20 Federally-Qualified Health Centers, 19 provide integrated behavioral health services, either through on-site mental/behavioral health providers or through a contract with a nearby mental/behavioral health clinic.

Many studies have shown that the integration of primary and behavioral health services “produces significant positive results, including decreases in client depression levels, improvement in quality of life, decreased stress and lower rates of psychiatric hospitalization.”[1] CHCs make up the backbone of the health care safety-net in Colorado, accepting Medicaid, Medicare, and offering a sliding fee scale for uninsured patients, all of which makes them critical access points for individuals seeking mental and behavioral health care.

The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) has developed a framework for a State Innovation Model (SIM) initiative that seeks to achieve the Triple Aim of better health outcomes, better patient experience, and lower costs. A key component of Colorado’s SIM initiative is supporting the integration of behavioral and physical health in primary care medical homes. Several CHC clinic sites were selected to participate in the SIM project, highlighting the innovative efforts of Colorado’s CHCs to fully integrate behavioral health services with patient-centered primary care in a medical home model.

[1] Levey, Miller, and deGruy. Behavioral health integration: an essential element of population-based health care redesign. TBM: Practice and Public Health Policies.

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