Bert Nash, Heartland partner to provide integrated care to the community

Karin Denes-Collar, a Bert Nash behavioral health consultant, is in her second year of working with clients and providers at Heartland Community Health Center.

Karin Denes-Collar, a Bert Nash behavioral health consultant, is in her second year of working with clients and providers at Heartland Community Health Center. by Jeff Burkhead

Karin Denes-Collar is employed by one agency, but works at a different agency.

And everyone involved agrees that’s a good thing.

Denes-Collar is a behavioral health consultant on staff at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. But she spends her days working at Heartland Community Health Center, which provides affordable health care to the community. The two agencies have a partnership to provide integrated services.

“I always joke about having dual citizenship,” Denes-Collar said of the arrangement.

She feels equally at home at both places.

“Having worked at Bert Nash for so long, there’s a certain allegiance there, because I’ve been part of that team for so long, but this is where I work day-to-day. These are my people. From the first day I was here, I was welcomed with open arms,” Denes-Collar said.

That’s not always the case in such arrangements, she said.

“A lot of people who do the job that I do find some resistance when they get to the community health center,” Denes-Collar said. “They can be like we don’t want this interloper coming in and telling us what to do. But from the beginning, integrated care was seen as an important part of how we want to practice here. I always hope everybody here at HCHC sees me as much a part of the team as I feel like I am.”

This is Denes-Collar’s second year in the shared role, which is funded through a grant by the Sunflower Foundation.

“I think the partnership has worked well,” she said. “People are starting to learn that I’m here.”

The biggest beneficiary of the partnership is the community.

“Working to meet the primary care needs of the community is a significant challenge. Bert Nash is already doing a great job of meeting needs in mental health,” said Jon Stewart, Heartland CEO. “By sharing resources and utilizing this unconventional model that repositions the expertise into a new setting, we are really leveraging the impact the resources will have.”

Having a behavioral health consultant on site makes it easier and faster for HCHC patients to see a therapist. Sort of like one-stop shopping when it comes to health care.

“Anybody who comes here for a primary care appointment or is one of our patients has the ability to see me,” Denes-Collar said. “The really great thing about it is it doesn’t require a referral from a doctor. It is super easy.”

There is a national push toward integrated care, and Bert Nash and Heartland are at the forefront of that movement. And Denes Collar was the right person for the job.

“When I began searching for the perfect behavioral health consultant, I realized this position needed to be a marketing professional, an outstanding clinician, have a shining personality that instilled trust, and present as non-threatening, while standing his or her ground,” Patricia Roach Smith, Bert Nash chief operating officer, said. “We hit the jackpot with Karin. She is all those things, while being flexible and grounded. Of course, the team at Heartland Community Health Center was a dream to work with, but without those qualities in the individual we put forth, things could have been slow and more challenging. The marketing skill is important for a number of reasons. We want to convince the consumers at Bert Nash that physical health is as important as their mental health, while convincing those at HCHC that their mental health is fundamental to their physical health. The behavioral health consultant is in sales and marketing with patients, consumers and staff. That is not a role everyone can play.”

Which makes Denes-Collar a good fit.

“I’m convinced that this position is not for everyone. The key to Karin’s success is adaptability and flexibility,” said Heartland CEO Stewart. “She always has lots of plates spinning. She’s able to move fast when she needs to and she can slow down when the situation calls for it. She’s good at helping patients in areas that they want help, and she’s good at supporting providers in ways that they want support.”

Besides addressing people’s mental and physical needs, part of the mission at Heartland is to also serve people’s spiritual needs.

“That is an important part of what we do at HCHC,” Denes-Collar said.

The partnership between Bert Nash and Heartland also helps reduce the stigma for those needing mental health services.

“We know the rate of people following through on referrals is low. Part of that is the stigma of going to the mental health center,” Denes-Collar said. “But we know if we can catch things early and we can see somebody when they are a little depressed and not a lot depressed, then we can help them get back into their lives faster.”

On the flip side, the partnership between Bert Nash and Heartland benefits those who have mental disorders as well as physical stressors.

“On the average, people with severe and persistent mental illness die about 25 years earlier than the general population, which is startling. Cigarette smoking is a big factor in that,” Denes-Collar said. “So helping them to eat healthy and getting them to the doctor when they need to and getting them to think about quitting smoking, it’s a great benefit for people, and probably keeps some out of a more serious crisis.”

As part of the ongoing partnership between the two agencies, a nurse practitioner from Heartland will be available at Bert Nash one day a week, starting in September.

“We’re hoping she will be able to capture some of those folks at Bert Nash who don’t have a primary care provider,” Denes-Collar said. “Just like we may have some people at Heartland who may be reluctant to seek care at the mental health center, there are people at the mental health center who are reluctant to go to HCHC.”

As yet another way to expand health care integration, a psychiatric nurse from Bert Nash will be available at Heartland one day a week, also starting in September, to offer consultation to HCHC’s primary care providers.

“We’ll be able to manage all of their prescribing right here in house,” Denes-Collar said. “There’s a lot of continuity in services that makes that a really good idea.”

For her role, Denes-Collar sees around six or eight patients a day on average, and on top of that she may visit with the doctors at Heartland about a handful of other patients.

“This is a little bit different from traditional mental health,” she said. “It tends to be what I call briefer therapy, but it’s very efficient. It’s all very seamless. There’s no referral process needed. The way we see it here, talking to a therapist is just a normal thing to do.”

From the beginning of the partnership between Bert Nash and Heartland, Denes-Collar said she was welcomed to HCHC with open arms.

From the beginning of the partnership between Bert Nash and Heartland, Denes-Collar said she was welcomed to HCHC with open arms. by Jeff Burkhead

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