Mental Health and Oral Health services have traditionally been thought of as separate entities. To better provide efficient, affordable care, Greene County Health Care (GCHC) is bridging the gap, integrating medical, dental, and behavioral health services for its patients.
As a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), GCHC serves patients across Greene, Pitt, and Pamlico counties in North Carolina. Their focus resides in increasing access to high-quality care for the underserved, uninsured, and underinsured.
Cori Davis, a MedFT at GCHC, went into detail about her role in connecting oral and mental health.
In the time between when a patient fills out their paperwork and is seen by a dental hygienist or assistant, Davis performs behavioral health screenings and interventions. This involves sitting down with a patient to evaluate their overall mental health.
She screens for common mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression. Davis also assesses dental pain and pain management, eating and sleeping patterns, as well as social and basic needs.
Though her brief interventions on managing chronic conditions and mental health issues can go a long way, Davis often makes referrals to other GCHC therapists, if needed.
“We have a lot of great therapists here that can devote more time to a long-term case,” Davis stated.
Additionally, Davis makes referrals to GCHC’s medical clinic for patients who need medical care.
Working closely with a social worker, therapists at GCHC can work through common issues like transportation and medication affordability. Ride-sharing services and other programs to help patients access the care they need are often covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
We asked Davis if she thought her work had a genuine impact on the overall health of the patients she met with, to which she responded, “Definitely, yes.” She explained that before patients even leave the room, they are given handouts and techniques so they may leave with tangible and practicable information.
Afterwards, there is more to be done.
“Connecting them to a healthcare system that can be with them and work with them long-term is really valuable so they have all of their services they need in one building.” Davis continued, “That really helps with continuity of care and making sure they can have sustained healthcare.”
One example of how these health screenings are linked to the oral health practice is when a patient suffers from dental anxiety. Evaluating this condition allows for the therapist to work through breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. This information is then communicated to the dental assistant or dentist so that they may implement these practices throughout the appointment.
“We’re really filling the gaps with the services we do here,” said Davis, “Because the population we serve in dental isn’t the same population for the medical side.”
Behavioral health, general health care, and oral health care are often siloed, which exacerbates barriers that many face to accessing the care they need.
“We emphasize your whole health here and we want to make sure that all of you is doing well”, Davis said.
Addressing Oral Health disparities in North Carolina is tied with improving the overall health and well-being of its citizens. Combining medical, dental, and behavioral health services has become increasingly important in this process. Collectively, these related health fields strive to better the lives of everyone, especially those who have not had the privilege of reliable health insurance and access to care.
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