Reducing barriers to mental health care for youth in Washington

Across the nation, the mental and behavioral health of children and young adults is at a crisis point. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nationally, the proportion of emergency visits for mental health issues for youth 12-17 increased by 31% during the pandemic. The CDC also reported that one in four young adults was found to have seriously considered suicide — an increase from one in 10 pre-pandemic.1

The University of Washington found similar numbers for youth and young adults under age 27 in Washington state.2 Depression diagnoses for this group have increased approximately 30% since 2019, while anxiety diagnoses have increased 50%. To help create more resources for behavioral health care in Washington for young adults, the United Health Foundation established a $3.3 million grant partnership with the North Olympic Healthcare Network (NOHN). NOHN is a Federally Qualified Health Center serving Clallam County.

Providing behavioral health care to families

Over three years, the grant will help deploy community- and school-based interventions to extend care for the health and well-being of children and their families in the Port Angeles area. NOHN will leverage community collaborations and creative mobile delivery models to bring much needed behavioral and primary care services to those in greatest need. Parents are able to pre-approve access to the mobile care for their student, which can help avoid difficulties in seeking time off of work to attend in person. There are also considerations in place for homeless youth or youth without legal guardianship to support them in accessing health care services as well.

The partnership between the United Health Foundation and NOHN will address critical behavioral health needs in students earlier and breakdown barriers to mental health care. The program will also support community outreach to adults who are struggling with behavioral and chronic medical conditions.

NOHN will provide behavioral health and primary care services to 1,000 K-12 students and parents. The partnership is expected to drive a ten-fold increase in the number of students accessing behavioral health services and reduce the stigma about mental health treatment among children and families.

Reducing emergency department visits

Additionally, NOHN will expand the Port Angeles Community Paramedicine program to support in-the-field medical care. This is expected to prevent 400 avoidable emergency department (ED) visits from individuals who frequently use the ED for nonemergency behavioral health or substance misuse issues. The Paramedicine program is also able to connect individuals to more personalized resources. 

The grant is part of UnitedHealth Group’s commitment to expanding access to care, improving health care affordability and achieving better health outcomes. Partnering with key stakeholders such as NOHN is a way to advance health equity, build healthier communities and support ongoing response efforts to COVID-19. Since 2019, UnitedHealth Group has invested over $36 million in strategic partnerships with nonprofit organizations and other community partners to improve behavioral health.

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