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St. Joseph Health Northern California priorities

Here are top issues the health system is focusing on, based on a triennial survey of focus groups.

1. Mental health

2. Substance abuse

3. Obesity

4. Heart disease

5. Oral health

6. Access to resources

7. Housing concerns

8. Diabetes

9. Food and nutrition

10. Early childhood development

11. Insurance and cost of care

12. Homelessness

13. Economic insecurity

14. Asthma

15. Cancer

16. Crime and safety

17. Immigration status

Source: St. Joseph Health Northern California 2017 Community Health Needs Assessment Report

With the dangerous outcomes of untreated mental health conditions dominating the national conversation, area health care providers are stepping up efforts to treat and prevent mental illness.

The North Bay’s three major health care systems — Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, and St. Joseph Health Northern California — all have invested millions of dollars into addressing mental health needs.

“People are feeling the economic stresses of living in Northern California, where the cost of living is high,” said Dana Codron, RN, executive director of community outreach for Napa-based St. Joseph Health Northern California. “Also, in general, affordable housing is a huge stressor, and after the fires, that really made it worse.”

Kaiser Permanente is also seeing the need to address these pressures among residents in the North Bay.

“We recognize that our society faces a growing need for mental health care,” said Judy Coffey, RN, senior vice president and area manager at Kaiser Permanente, Marin-Sonoma. “To help reduce mental health stigma … and increase the community’s understanding of mental health, Kaiser Permanente recently approved $180,000 in grants to be split between two Marin-Sonoma nonprofit organizations.”

Kaiser awarded $90,000 to LifeWorks of Sonoma County, a nonprofit mental health organization. The other $90,000 has been approved for North Marin Community Services, an agency whose stated mission is to empower youth, adults and families to achieve well-being, growth and success.

“We also invest in our buildings, physicians and staff,” Coffey said, referring to last summer when Kaiser expanded its mental and behavioral health services by leasing space on Mercury Way in southwest Santa Rosa. The location, which has 60 provider offices, houses the health care provider’s Adult Mental Health, Child and Family Mental Health, and Addiction Medicine Services departments.

Kaiser further amplified its mental health care services following October’s wildfires.

“Many North Bay neighbors are struggling with physical, emotional, and economic trauma while trying to rebuild their homes and lives,” Coffey said, adding that nearly 200 Kaiser Permanente physicians and staff lost their homes in the fires.

Kaiser Permanente fast-tracked grants and donations to fund mental health groups for people affected by the fires, as well as for relief assistance and other fire-relief funds and organizations, she said.

Kaiser also subsequently formed a resilience team, comprised of multiple departments working to develop and provide resources, such as how to talk with children about the fires, and tips to help avoid re-traumatization, she said.

Last month, St. Joseph Health Northern California published its 2017 Community Benefit Report, detailing how the health care system determined how to best allocate its $97.2 million investment among its facilities in Sonoma, Napa and Humboldt counties. St. Joseph’s facilities in the North Bay consist of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Petaluma Valley Hospital and Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.

Conducted every three years, the community benefit report based on input from focus groups comprised of public, nonprofit and government stakeholders, as well as community residents, Codron said.

Of the 17 categories identified for “significant health needs,” mental health topped the list, she said, explaining that although mental health issues were identified across the board, it was the community residents who placed it as top priority for funding — and whose input carried the most weight.

Beyond the community benefit funds, Codron said there is additional funding designated solely for mental and behavioral health through the Well Being Trust, an independent 501(c)(3) public charity launched in 2016 by Providence St. Joseph Health, the parent organization of St. Joseph Health Northern California.

St. Joseph Health Northern California priorities

Here are top issues the health system is focusing on, based on a triennial survey of focus groups.

1. Mental health

2. Substance abuse

3. Obesity

4. Heart disease

5. Oral health

6. Access to resources

7. Housing concerns

8. Diabetes

9. Food and nutrition

10. Early childhood development

11. Insurance and cost of care

12. Homelessness

13. Economic insecurity

14. Asthma

15. Cancer

16. Crime and safety

17. Immigration status

Source: St. Joseph Health Northern California 2017 Community Health Needs Assessment Report

The Well Being Trust is dedicated to advancing the mental, social and spiritual health of the nation, and supports organizations besides Providence St. Joseph Health, according to Albert Lang, director of communications for Well Being Trust.

Of the Trust’s more than 60 investments across the country, the total investment since 2017 in Northern California alone, including for St. Joseph Health Northern California’s facilities, totaled $5,564,245, Lang said.

Codron said that in addition to economic stressors identified by North Bay residents, there is anxiety among the large number of the region’s hospitality-related workers who earn low wages, as well as fear among the Latino community of possibly having their families torn apart.

Exacerbating mental health needs is a lack of services available in other languages such as Spanish; the continued stigma around seeking help, and a shortage of psychiatrists, Codron said.

“Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital has attempted to hire psychiatrists for two years,” she said. “I hear from county health and human services that it’s very difficult to hire psychiatrists, particularly who speak the language, which is really important when you’re trying to understand someone’s emotional distress, mental and behavioral health. If you don’t understand the language, you’ll miss nuances that are very important.”

Meanwhile, Sutter Health has partnered with Mental Health America, a national nonprofit organization that works to further mental health support, recovery and advocacy.

Sutter Health provided initial funding (declining to state how much) for MHA to develop Screening-to-Supports (S2S), an online tool that connects people with mental health support and services in real time.

“Anyone can go online and take an online screening to see if they trigger positive for a mental health challenge,” said John Boyd, Sutter Health CEO, Mental Health Services. After completing the screening, options appear where local help is available.

Sutter Health also has launched an initiative that integrates national certified peer specialists (NCPS) into Sutter’s workforce. NCPSes are professionals certified by MHA with the highest levels of knowledge and skills to work in public and private mental health settings, and can help bridge the gap on longstanding mental health workforce shortages, according to both entities.

NCPSes have firsthand experience with mental health challenges, either of their own or with a family member, said Boyd, who also serves as chair of the state Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission.

“People who have been in that situation are able to offer practical information to share what it is like,” Boyd said. “And they can build a rapport quickly because others have been in their same shoes.”

Sutter Health and MHA plan soon to launch a workplace mental health strategy and a public education campaign to target suicide and self-harm. The campaign will begin in Northern California communities, and will likely develop nationwide, according to both entities.

To advance the conversation about suicide prevention, Sutter Health has employed the services of LivingWorks, an international program with U.S. headquarters in North Carolina that provides education around suicide prevention.

“At Sutter, we’re actually bringing that LivingWorks training into our own workforce,” Boyd said. “One thing people don’t realize is that, on average, one physician a day in the United States dies by suicide. So our workforce isn’t immune.”

Boyd said Sutter Health is committed to combating the stigma that continues to surround addressing mental health issues.

“This is just the beginning of actions we are taking at Sutter Health to be a national leader in eliminating social prejudice and stigma around mental health and providing real solutions within our communities,” he said. “It’s more urgent than ever to put mental health on par with physical health.”