CMHC, Hill Health Team Up

Allan Appel PhotoA big barrier for people with behavioral problems disappeared Monday as the Connecticut Mental Health Center opened up a “wellness center” to treat the primary health needs of its patients, all under the same roof.

In other words, people coming to CMHC for help with mental illness will now have a clinic at the same place for help with other kinds of health problmes.

Nobody at the festive occasion quoted Juvenal or high school Latin, but the new facility is a fulfillment of his charge: mens sana in corpore sano: Have a sound mind in a sound body.

That can happen with the new center, because all patients have to do now is walk across the hall.

The new “center” is in fact a modest suite of doctors’ offices and examining rooms that CMHC has provided for the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center. Hill Health is opening the satellite branch to treat those folks already patients at CMHC but who might have no primary care physician and or need help managing conditions like hypertension and diabetes.

That’s a lot of people.

Up to 1,500, or a third, of the mental health patients whom CMHC sees annually do not have a primary physician to help them care for their bodies, according to CMHC CEO Michael Sernyak.

That’s what prompted CHMC to apply successfully for a $1.6 million four-year federal grant to pay for the program.

Sernyak presided over ribbon-cutting festivities Monday that drew a happy throng of clients, staffers, and state officials including Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman to CMHC.

Cynthia Ferrari and Serena Spruill are two CMHC patients who already have physical health services from other city providers. But many of their patient colleagues at CMHC do not.

“I know people who use the ER [emergency room] and wait till something is wrong. People are waiting. They’re suffering,” Spruill said as she prepared to cut the blue ribbon with the obligatory golden scissors and a big smile.

The doctor will now be in and waiting across the hall. A question remains: Will the patients come?

That was the perspective offered by Michael Taylor, the interim CEO at Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, CMHC’s partner in the innovative project.

Hill Health will staff the new clinic with under CMHC staff supervision In effect, Hill Health now has 1,500 new potential patients, “assuming we can induce them to come to us for care now that we’re in the building,” said Taylor.

Sernyak thinks it will work.

He called the new arrangement the realization of one of the fundamental goals of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare): creating true “medical homes,” central places where people can get all different kinds of coordinated health care.

“Everyone who comes to CMHC will have primary care,” he said.

The clinic will include “health navigators” and evaluators, making the project potentially a template for other states , he said.

The “navigators,” who well might be people like Ferrari and Spruill who know the ropes at CMHC already, may go with fellow patients to visit the new [physical care] docs across the hall. They will explain the medication, the choices.

Under stressful doctor-visiting conditions, even people without behavioral problems may remember only parts of a medical consultation, Sernyak said.

State Commissioner of Mental Health & Addiction Services Patricia Rehmer said that people who deal with mental health illness without also getting primary health care tend to die at an earlier age.

She called the pilot project “very exciting.”

Then she added, “I can’t believe you brought it in on time and under budget!”

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