As a Practice Facilitator, I continuously challenge myself to research, study, and better understand the gaps between primary care and behavioral health. I look at these gaps from both provider and patient perspectives, understanding each of these roles is essential when working with practices that are in the process of enhancing or implementing behavioral health in a primary care setting.  

Last month's InSTEP interview with Mogens Bill Baerentzen, Ph.D., CRC, LMHP, titled "Behavioral Health Integration into Primary Care-Bridging the Gap" noted significant behavioral health workforce shortages, limited access to "natural" supports for both patient and providers, and the lack of integrated training sites for both existing and new clinical staff. Dr. Baerentzen also noted siloed primary care and behavioral health workforce training programs delivering graduates unprepared to collaborate in primary care settings. I thought a follow-up blog highlighting some of HealthTeamWorks' commonly used approaches, strategies, and inexpensive community resources provided to practices would be helpful.

At HealthTeamWorks, we recognize the importance of assessing and identifying collaborative partnerships across the medical neighborhood/community to meet the needs of empaneled populations. We've seen practices approach this differently with great success. For example, when onboarding a behavioral health clinician into a primary clinic workflow, we may encourage practices to allow the clinician to shadow clinic staff and providers. This process provides a "real-time" overview of clinic huddle expectations, workflows, and will further enhance communications lines between the behavioral health clinician and care teams during clinic hours. Using this approach also provides a natural way for introductions to clinic staff, providers, and patients. Introductions during non-crisis can often save several steps and time during an escalated situation. Practices share that the front-end investment in onboarding enhances buy-in and understanding for both patients and providers of behavioral health services.

Tapping into community-based alliances is vital to improve clinical quality outcomes, improve patient experience, and reduce the cost of care. One of the many community programs with which practices can collaborate with is the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). We interviewed Linda Welsch-Jensen Ph.D., RN, MN- Clarkson College Professor of Graduate Nursing, who is one of eight trained staff with NAMI Omaha qualified to provide the unique NAMI Providers Seminar.  In the interview, we learned the seminar is presented by a trained team that includes a person with a mental health condition who is in recovery, a family member of someone with a mental health condition, and a mental health professional who has a mental health condition or is a family member of someone who does. NAMI Provider introduces health professionals to the perspectives of people with mental health conditions and their families. This training develops enhanced empathy for daily challenges and recognizes the importance of including patients with mental health challenges in all aspects of the treatment process.

HealthTeamWorks understands and emphasizes the importance of assessing health-promoting lifestyles with patients and facilitating changes to improve both physical and mental health.  We know key ingredients for implementation, beyond training, are provider buy-in, robust team-based care approaches, and an understanding of individual needs beyond the walls of the practice.  As practices continue to deal with increased social, physical, and emotional stress resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and affecting patients and staff, we must continue to support practices in identifying community partners and resources and working more collaboratively than ever before.

Additional Resources:

Mental Health First Aid:
National Alliance on Mental Illness:  https://www/ 
Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network:


Written by Angela Schindler-Berg, Project Lead at HealthTeamWorks