UCHealth Adds Mental Health Services To Primary Care, Expands Telehealth Access

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Dan Boyce/CPR News
UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs shortly after a temporary lockdown on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019.

UCHealth is now incorporating behavioral health services into its primary care locations across the state.

The move is part of the health care system's more than $100 million investment in behavioral health over the next few years. Two other avenues of expanding access are increased telehealth consultations with psychiatrists and expanding the inpatient behavioral health unit at University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora around 2023.

Lynnay Carona, a licensed clinical social worker with a UCHealth clinic in Colorado Springs, said this new approach is helping remove barriers to care.

"People are realizing that their mental health and their physical health are inextricably interwoven, and we can treat the whole person," Carona said. "We don't want patients to have to jump through hoops to take care of their mental health."

A CDC report this past June found that 40 percent of U.S. adults were struggling with mental health or substance use during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A recent Colorado Health Foundation poll found over 50 percent of people surveyed experienced mental health issues due to the pandemic. 

In addition, the new integrated system is helping primary care practitioners offer expanded services to their clients.

"What I see most with the other providers is a great sense of relief that they can actually offer something to their patients to address those needs," Carona said. "That was a huge gap that was very concerning for them that they didn't have a lot of opportunity to address. Now we have a way that they can take care of the whole person within this team structure."

Behavioral health experts are now in around 30 clinics across the state. UCHealth plans to expand to the full 60 clinics in the next few months.