Medical things

The Virginia Health Care Foundation has announced a new $1.5 million behavioral health program that is designed to increase access to mental health care for uninsured Virginians and those with little to no access to medical care.

The two-year initiative revealed Monday, called Beyond Blue, will focus on three areas starting this summer:

  • the treatment of depression in patients with diabetes;
  • the implementation of a trauma-informed approach to care with a focus on resiliency training; and
  • the number of psychiatric nurse practitioners in Virginia.

The foundation is a public-private partnership that helps uninsured Virginians and those who live in areas without robust medical, dental and mental health services. More than 200 supporters gathered Monday to hear a slate of politicians speak during an anniversary luncheon.

“Last summer, when we thought about how to mark the 25th anniversary of the foundation, we determined we wanted to do something meaningful to address the behavioral health need in Virginia,” said Ralph Howell, chairman of the Virginia Health Care Foundation’s board of trustees. “Everywhere we looked, unaddressed mental health issues were a problem.”

Depression and anxiety are common among the patients helped by the foundation, Howell said, yet three-quarters of the state is in a federally designated shortage area for mental health professionals. There are only 213 psychiatric nurse practitioners in the state.

Among patients with diabetes, depression is a “significant obstacle” that makes it harder to maintain weight-loss routines and diet restrictions, Howell said.

Debbie Oswalt, executive director of the foundation, said that $1.1 million of the $1.5 million needed for the program has been raised so far.

This initiative will be underwritten by a $500,000 challenge grant from the Collis-Warner Foundation.

Also, the foundation’s three initial funders — Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association — have been joined by the Wells Fargo Foundation in committing a combined total of more than $100,000.

“With this effort, we are doing our part to help move Virginia to the point where people’s mental health needs will be addressed in a more timely and appropriate fashion,” Howell said. “Hopefully, when we celebrate the foundation’s 50th anniversary, access to behavioral health will no longer be an issue.”

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