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St. Charles County Suburban Journal: Senator makes house call at health center in Wentzville

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Russell Korando
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., visited Crider Health Center in Wentzville last week to learn more about its integrated approach to mental health care.

He said he was impressed with how Crider, which is both a community mental health center and a federally qualified health center, ties those services together in one place.

"Combining these services at one location, when you have someone who has a health care problem, only to find out they might have a behavioral problem, you have the ability to take them into an examining room," Blunt said. "That means you have a 100 percent chance that person is going to get at least the first discussion with somebody who might refer them to someone who can help them."

Blunt's Feb. 19 tour of Crider came as he is cosponsoring three bills in the U.S. Senate that have ties to helping provide more Americans with access to mental health facilities.

One of those bills, introduced last June in the House of Representatives, would improve Medicaid reimbursement for community behavioral health services.

Another bill introduced last June, the Mental Health First Aid Higher Education Act of 2012, would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services, acting through the administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in coordination with the Secretary of Education, to carry out a five-year program to fund mental health and first aid training programs at 10 institutions of higher education.

The third bill, introduced Jan. 28, is the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act of 2013, which would reauthorize and improve the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2004. Blunt said that bill would make it easier for mental health services and federally qualified centers to coordinate.

He said the moment is right to take on the challenge of making communication easier between services.

"The federally qualified model works," Blunt said. "All over the country people have seen lots of examples where federally qualified centers were built and served a community or population not being served already."

Crider already has federally qualified behavioral health status, but many of the organizations it works with do not, said Laura Heebner, Crider president and chief executive officer.

Heebner said passage of the bill to improve Medicaid reimbursement would have a positive financial impact on the people who receive it.

"Right now, they have to pay a 40 percent match for every Medicaid service delivered, but as a federally qualified behavioral health center, Medicaid will pay 97 percent of the costs," Heebner said.

Crider was a community mental health center for 30 years before it became a federally qualified health center. Before receiving the federal status, Heebner said Crider never received funds for capital expenses. Heebner said people who make the decisions about funding health services vote to pay for health care because they understand it, but when it comes to mental health they're not so sure.

Heebner is one of 14 members of a county task force of education, law enforcement and mental health leaders studying school safety and ways to communicate better to avoid crises like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn. The task force submitted its preliminary recommendations to County Executive Steve Ehlmann earlier this month. A final report is due in June.

"Being in the mental health field, everything seems so common sense to us, and we're knowledgeable about a lot of the aspects we discussed as a task force," Heebner said. "Unfortunately our partners in education and juvenile justice don't have our experience, so the task force educated various groups about individual needs. I learned about what the schools' needs are. I'm optimistic some of the recommendations the task force came up with, the schools will look at seriously."

Blunt said the federally qualified health center model, which provides health care services for people that don't have them or have difficulty getting access to health care, works in Missouri. People who live in rural areas are more likely to have health insurance, but it is harder for them to get to a place to use it for mental health, he said.

Blunt said he hopes the bills can be voted on this year. The Senate Health Committee met Jan. 24, but the last hearing the committee had on mental health was in 2007.

"That is an indication that this is something you've got to deal with while people are focused on it," Blunt said.

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