Chamber hears pilot program update

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Beneath the vaulted ceilings of Bridgton Hospital’s lobby, the businessmen and women mingled, at Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce Chamber After Hours.

Around 60 people gathered May 12 to network and hear the latest chamber news. Of particular interest was an update on the hospital’s partnership with Tri-County Mental Health Services in implementing a pilot program for integrating mental health treatment with medical care.

Catherine Ryder, interim director of Tri-County Mental Health Services, told the gathering, which included many Bridgton Hospital staff, that many more patients are getting their mental health needs met than ever before in the Greater Bridgton area. That’s because Tri-County has partnered with the hospital’s five primary care practices to “imbed” mental health practitioners at the offices. Each of the five sites gets 20 hours of dedicated service from Tri-County, enabling doctors and nurse practitioners to make referrals when a patient has a mental health need.

“When you take the bogeyman out of the mix, it becomes much easier” to convince patients to seek mental health services, Ryder said in a later telephone interview. Over the past year, around 300 patients have been referred to Tri-County’s Integrated Care Program, and of that, 210 patients have scheduled appointments and undergone assessments, she said.

Ryder said the medical practice’s staff has been grateful for the service because it allows their patients to overcome the stigma of seeking mental health services. “The stigma has been a huge barrier,” she said. Often, if one of the Tri-County staff is on site when a patient is being seen by a medical doctor, it’s as simple a matter as “a warm hand-off” where the patient can be brought down the hall to be introduced to the therapist.

Prior to the program’s implementation, a patient needing mental health services would have to make a separate appointment to go to Tri- County’s offices — and all too often, the patient would not follow through, she said.

The program allows for short-term “solutions-oriented” therapy of seven to nine sessions to deal with an immediate issue, such as the grief that often accompanies a recent diagnosis of a serious medical illness. If a patient has a more serious mental health problem, they can be referred to Tri-County for more extensive treatment.

A key advantage to the program is the consolidation of electronic records between the primary care practice and Tri- County. Mental health notes are in the same place as medical health notes, allowing for better management of care, she said.

Ryder said medical doctors are currently providing 70% of the prescribing for mental health issues, and having psychiatric professionals involved in the support team is essential for providing the best treatment possible.

“There aren’t a lot of psychiatrists in the state,” said Ryder. The partnership also helps prevent patients with drug abuse issues from “doctor shopping,” she said.

The after-hours gathering also included short speeches by several Chamber members about special events that are in the planning stages, including the Chamber’s 2011 dinner- auction on Thursday, May 19, at Bridgton Academy, and the ever-popular raffle of prizes donated by Chamber members.

Chamber President Jim Mains Jr. announced that the chamber had gained eight new members since last month, an impressive number. Those who joined the chamber in April were Steve Veazey, from the Oxford Hills Chapter of SCORE; Tim Dilmuth of Portland Coupon Cocktail; Derek Melvin of Time Warner Cable Business Class; Peter Lowell of Lakes Environmental Association; JoAnne Harbourt of Western Maine BBQ Festival; Greg Smith of Stone Surface and Granite; Bill Macdonald of BRAG Recreation Complex; and Michelle Granfield of Mainely-4-You.

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