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First-round CMS Innovations Awards highlight cost-saving role of behavioral interventions

May 10, 2012
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief
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Behavioral health organizations earn two of first 26 grants; both will bring primary and preventive care to “at risk” individuals
Among the 26 Innovator grantees are two prominent behavioral health organizations, the Bexar County Center for Health Care Services (San Antonio, Texas) and Kitsap Mental Health Services (Bremerton, Wash.)

From the looks of the first group of grantees selected to receive Health Care Innovation Awards, it appears clear that the people at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) Health Care Innovations Center understand and appreciate the importance of behavioral health to good physical health and the disproportionate impact that individuals with untreated behavioral health problems can have on the nation's healthcare costs.

Among the 26 Innovator grantees are two prominent behavioral health organizations, the Bexar County Center for Health Care Services (San Antonio, Texas) and Kitsap Mental Health Services (Bremerton, Wash.), while a number of the other grantees indicate that behavioral health organizations and those they serve are included as collaborative partners.

The Center for Health Care Services received a $4.56 million Innovations grant to integrate behavioral care and health care for a group of approximately 260 homeless adults in San Antonio with severe mental illness or co-occurring mental illness/substance abuse disorders who are “at risk” for chronic physical diseases.

Their intervention will integrate health care into behavioral health clinics, using a multi-disciplinary care team to coordinate behavioral, primary, and tertiary health care for these people—most of them Medicaid beneficiaries or eligible for Medicaid—and is expected to improve their capacity to self-manage, reducing emergency room admissions, hospital admissions, and lowering cost, while improving health and quality of life and with estimated savings of $5 million over three years. 

Kitsap Mental Health Services won a $ 1.85 million grant to integrate care for one thousand severely mentally ill or severely emotionally disturbed adults and children, many of them Medicare, Medicaid, and/or CHIP beneficiaries who have at least one co-morbidity. Research shows that health care for the severely mentally ill /severely emotionally disturbed population is often fragmented, ineffective, and inefficient, resulting in poor health and premature death.

By providing integrated behavioral health management and preventive care through primary care physicians, other care providers, and social service organizations, the project is expected to improve beneficiary health and reduce avoidable emergency room visits and hospitalizations with estimated savings of approximately $5.8 million.

For both organizations, the grants provide an opportunity to realize long-held dreams. “This grant will now enable us to do something we’ve longed to do for more than 25 years, to provide holistic care for our clients,” said KMHS CEO Joe Roszak. While his team was delighted to hear the award news, their spirit of celebration was muted by a sense of purpose, Joe explained. “Our clients die on the average 25 years younger—at age 53. This crisis has been longstanding.”

In San Antonio, CHCS CEO Leon Evans greeted the news in a similar spirit. For his team, who for years had to bootstrap resources for its care system using “community collaborative” approaches, news of the grant came as affirmation of a decade-long effort to build a nationally recognized, community-wide system of care. At CHCS, award funds will be used to for preventive and primary care of homeless individuals who reside at the “Haven for Hope,” San Antonio’s unique homeless and community services campus.