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New partnership to screen for Hepatitis C in an outpatient community mental health setting

May 1, 2014
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Centerstone Research Institute (CRI), a not-for-profit organization based in Nashville, Tenn. dedicated to improving behavioral healthcare through research, program evaluation, and information technology, and Centerstone (Nashville, Tenn.), a not-for-profit organization providing a wide range of mental health and addiction services, recently partnered with the Indiana University (IU) School of Public Health-Bloomington to validate for the first time ever a behaviorally based screening method for Hepatitis C in an outpatient community mental healthcare setting.

The initiative, funded by a $14,000 grant from the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, will be conducted in Bloomington in close collaboration with the Indiana State Department of Health and the Monroe County Health Department. The groundbreaking Hepatitis C testing and referral initiative is designed to identify and treat those with the viral disease before it advances and causes significant physical health problems. 

Hepatitis C is a leading cause of cancer, liver failure and early death for those with behavioral health disorders. Many individuals who have the viral disease are unaware they have it and often seek care only after becoming physically—and often irreparably—ill. However, there are numerous effective treatments for Hepatitis C if it is detected early. This research initiative’s goal is to develop an effective screening and testing tool to identify and treat those with Hepatitis C before it advances and causes significant physical damage.

The Hepatitis C project is part of Centerstone’s BE Well program, which integrates physical and mental healthcare by addressing the significant health disparities experienced by individuals in Indiana with serious mental illness. The 150 BE Well participants taking part in the Hepatitis C project will be provided with free testing, a psychosocial support, and referrals for medical care.

“BE Well has been a tremendous success in addressing both the mental and physical wellness of those with serious mental illness,” said Maren Sheese, BE Well project director. “We continue to see significant improvements across the board, ranging from decreased blood pressure to improved eating habits, and are looking forward to building upon this strong foundation.”

Evaluation results show BE Well participants achieve significant reductions in weight, blood pressure and risk for diabetes. In fact, approximately 70 percent of participants lost weight in the first year, with the greatest loss equaling 109 pounds. Additionally, participants also show a decrease in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and an increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol and attribute their improved nutrition, increased exercise, tobacco reduction or cessation, decreased blood pressure and weight loss to the program.

“This unique healthcare partnership aims to determine the effectiveness of the Hepatitis C screening, and then make it available as quickly as possible to behavioral health centers treating at-risk clients,” said John Putz, co-leader of the project and program evaluator and research analyst at CRI. “CRI’s involvement is very much in keeping with our broader mission to bridge the gap between science and service, ensuring that people have access to leading healthcare service and tools more quickly. We believe research can bring real change to people’s lives in real time.”