Integrated behavioral care supports children in Colorado

An estimated one in five young people experiences a behavioral health disorder, but less half of youth with a behavioral health condition receive appropriate treatment.1 When behavioral disorders go untreated, they can have long-term impacts on a child’s health and well-being. Fifteen years ago, Pediatric Partners of the Southwest launched an Integrated Behavioral Health program through funding and collaboration from Rocky Mountain Health Plans, a UnitedHealthcare company. This program aims to close gaps in accessing behavioral health care, a challenge that particularly affects the rural communities that the pediatric practice serves.

The program model integrates behavioral care from the first visit and provides preventative support to address common concerns that occur at key developmental milestones, like entering kindergarten or transitioning to middle school. The goal is to identify and address behavioral health needs early, treating patients in the moment and planning long-term solutions. In addition to offering services like counseling, the behavioral health team partners with primary care providers to support kids with chronic health issues and kids with physical symptoms like stomach aches or trouble sleeping that may indicate an underlying behavioral health concern.

It fosters a collaborative atmosphere where mental health concerns are addressed alongside physical health, with the goal of validating patients’ experiences and normalizing mental health conversations among families. For providers, this approach humanizes the experience of delivering health care. The use of collaborative, supportive teams within the program aims to bolster providers’ resilience.

The team also works closely with schools to provide early screening and testing for conditions like ADHD, autism and learning disabilities that can impact kids’ ability to learn. The model has been implemented in a school-based clinic at North Main Durango High School, where a behavioral health clinician is present alongside a physician or nurse.

Integrating behavioral health care into primary care has been shown to benefit patient experience, cost and provider satisfaction and reduce demographic differences in behavioral health utilization.2,3 One study found that, among clinics with integrated psychologists, 93% of initial behavioral health visits occurred on the same day as a need was identified, enabling patients to access appropriate care and supports early on.3

Through the Integrated Behavioral Health program, Pediatric Partners of the Southwest removes common barriers to accessing behavioral health care including wait times for appointments and transportation. This accessibility is particularly vital in southwest Colorado’s rural and frontier communities that travel to the practice for care. Here from a provider about how the integrated Behavioral Health program is impacting how patients are served:

“Our Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH) team's expertise in screenings, crisis intervention and community resources, as well as their availability to provide behavioral health services, is such a gift to patients and their families with the ability to address issues right then and there. Emotional health is just as important as physical health and having the IBH team working alongside our providers enables us to provide the best whole-body care.” 

- Kelly Miller, MD 

Get updates on Medicaid topics you care about

Be the first to know about relevant news & insights by subscribing to our newsletter.