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Joplin Globe: Blunt visits Ozark Center to address opioid crisis

August 17, 2018

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., toured Ozark Center's Hope Spring on Friday and got an update on how the new clinic is helping local mental health professionals deal with the opioid epidemic.

After touring the clinic, Blunt met with a team of health professionals and community leaders to talk about the two-year pilot program that aims to combine behavioral health with physical health care in an effort to expand access to mental health services.

The conversation focused on the changes that have occurred in connection with the opening of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic in March on East 32nd Street. The program will end in June 2019.

Blunt co-sponsored and helped pass the Excellence in Mental Health Act in 2014 that created the program. Last year, Missouri was selected as one of eight states to take part in the program. Ozark Center, part of Freeman Health System, is one of 19 agencies in the state involved in the program.

Hope Spring provides adult outpatient mental health services and a walk-in clinic.

“I’m really pleased to see the expansion Freeman has made here,” Blunt said. “Hope is a particularly important part of life when you’re struggling with a behavioral health issue. I was here a year ago to talk about launching this two-year pilot project, where in our state, and seven other states, we’re treating mental health like all other health.”

During the roundtable discussion, Blunt listened to a variety of health care professionals to see how the pilot program was affecting their departments and clients. Blunt said he believes that the pilot project has given them an advantage in handling the opioid epidemic.

“It (opioid epidemic) was coming our way, and we thought it was bad then (last year), and it’s gotten worse since around the country,” Blunt said. “The goal of this pilot project is to also watch for the impact on overall health.”

Charles Bentlage, a physician consultant to Ozark Center Healthcare Home, said individuals with a serious mental illness have a life expectancy that is 25 years shorter on average. Healthcare Home is a program where individuals can be assisted in managing their mental and physical health.

“The reason for that (short life expectancy) largely is because they have primary medical problems that don’t get attended to as a result of their serious mental illness,” Bentlage said. “They’ll seek care and sometimes care is not accessible to them. The Healthcare Home provides us an opportunity to look out for their primary medical needs and be sure they’re all met — be sure that they have a primary care physician, be sure that they’re taking their medication as they should, and we’re responsible for their overall general health.”

Blunt cited statistics from the National Institutes of Health that one in four Americans likely has a treatable mental health issue while one in nine adult Americans has a behavioral health issue that affects their daily lives.

“There are 200 locations in our state where you can go and have your mental health issue dealt with exactly like any other health issue,” Blunt said. “Certainly, Freeman is near the front of that provider list of people who are out there addressing and looking for better ways to serve the people in their community and their public health concerns.”

A year later

Ozark Center provided a fact sheet explaining how the two-year pilot program has affected its overall success since the program's implementation last summer. Substance disorder medication services increased 88 percent with 1,575 services provided. Community support services increased 17.3 percent with 7,346 face-to-face visits and individual therapy services increased 8 percent with more than 29,000 visits, according to the fact sheet.

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