Health Care News, Health Center News

The Future of Integrated Mental Health Care

This post is part of NACHC’s Innovation Blog Series. This series is hosted monthly by our Center for Community Health Innovation.

By Peter Dy, Associate Director of Care Transformation, California Primary Care Association (CPCA)

Health centers provide wraparound services and integrated, holistic care including mental health care. Many health centers implement innovative solutions to offer this essential care.

Mental health and wellbeing touches all of us

For different reasons at different times, all of us may need someone to talk to. I am passionate about mental health because of lived experience and seeing my community suffer from unaddressed mental health concerns and intergenerational trauma. I am a South-East Asian American (SEAA) and my parents are refugees from Cambodia. The SEAA community experiences higher rates of mental health challenges than the general population due to their experiences of war, genocide, and displacement.

Regardless of who you are and your ability to pay, Community Health Centers offer many strengths in caring for mental health including:

  1. Integration of behavioral health services in primary care
  2. Care coordination and management in the medical home
  3. Leveraging technology like telehealth to reach remote patients

Increasing access to mental health services with urgent care models

Access to mental health care is unfortunately limited due to the mental health clinician shortage, limited mental health access parity, fragmented mental health access, and social stigma. Innovations with urgent care and health centers have helped patients access a mental health provider in real time, with no referrals, no waitlists, and no appointments.

  • Hill Country Community Clinic operates an urgent mental health C.A.R.E center and provides mobile crisis services in Round Mountain, California. The “Counseling and Recovery Engagement,” or C.A.R.E Center, provides urgent outpatient mental health services 365 days a year and the mobile crisis outreach service has teams respond to urgent mental health needs to provide evaluation, intervention, and resource linkage.
  • Axis Community Health also operates a Mental Health Urgent Care Center that provides rapid access to mental health treatment to patients ages 5 and up, free of charge, to residents of Dublin, Livermore, and Pleasanton, California.

What is coming next in mental health at health centers?

There is momentum to integrate oral health and mental health care in health centers. Oral health is viewed as separate from general health, despite it being a key contributor to overall health and well-being. Health centers are positioned to have this level of integration and there are even examples of this model of integration in Oregon and Missouri.

Additionally, I see further integration of mental health care with substance use disorder, with Congress and SAMHSA funding the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) model. It highlights the need to make sure we integrate services for patients with co-occurring conditions in mental health and substance use.

A recent resource from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing presents best and promising practices to integrate all 3 services – oral health, mental health, and substance use treatment. The report features 15 health provider organizations across the country including 4 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs).

Where to start – Mental Health First Aid

I highly recommend Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). MHFA is a skills-based training course that teaches participants about mental health and substance use issues. The evidence behind MHFA demonstrates that it helps build mental health literacy and helps the public identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness. In the spirit of reducing stigma and increasing awareness around mental health, click here to find a course or instructor.

NACHC’s CCHI is grateful to Peter for sharing his insights with us. We also want to hear from you – Does your health center have a program that addresses mental health care or mental wellness? Comment below or email

At the California Primary Care Association (CPCA), Peter is the Associate Director of Care Transformation and helps lead the organization’s training, technical assistance and advocacy portfolio related to behavioral health. He also serves as an advisory board member for SAMHSA’s Pacific Southwest Mental Health Technology Transfer Center and participates as a Think Tank Member for California’s five-year Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Staff participating in a Mental Health First Aid training.

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