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Bassett practice joins mental health and medical services

Sunday, July 27, 2014

By DEREK MAJOR - Bulletin Staff Writer

Bassett Family Practice has joined forces with Piedmont Community Services (PCS) to provide area residents with mental health services along with medical services when the two may be linked.

The services deal with chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which may have underlying causes such as stress, anxiety and depression, according to Becky Lovell, the director of consumer and community relations for PCS. The program combines the expertise of a primary care physician and a behavioral health counselor.

“We realize that many people will go to their primary care physician for help with blood pressure, diabetes or some other illness, some of which are caused by stress, anxiety or substance abuse issues, prescription and illegal (drugs),” Lovell said. “So what we’ve come to is if you try to help the situation they’re in, it can help in dealing with their physical ailments.”

The main facilitators of the program are Dr. David H. Lewis, medical director for Bassett Family Practice, and Shannon McNett-Gray, a behavioral health consultant with PCS.

Two or three days a week, they help patients learn to manage stress or depression or deal with personal and lifestyle issues in a more positive manner, which can help patients better manage their medical conditions.

This team approach has resulted in fewer emergency room visits, reduced hospital admissions and increased primary care, according to Lewis.

“We have counselors that can help people with habits at home or their lifestyle and if they need just someone to talk to. Sometimes it can be a medical issue and sometimes it can be personal,” he said. “When we are able to identify the cause of these illnesses, it can go a long way towards helping people, and it’s help that anyone can afford.”

This program is available to anyone. People who are underinsured or have low incomes can receive the help through a grant from the Virginia Healthcare Foundation (VHF). This year, the VHF has given $40,838 toward the program. The grant allows patients to pay depending on their income, insurance and family size.

“There are many cases where people can’t afford to get treatment because of what they make and therefore cannot get the help they so desperately need, so we help with that, too,” Lovell said. “We want to help get the word out about this, because people who are underinsured and can’t afford services otherwise can receive help from this program without being affected financially.”

Although the program does not guarantee success, it can help people open up about their symptoms, talk about their lives and get help in managing their illnesses.

“We have had success in helping people lower their blood pressure, get their diabetes under control and deal with depression,” Lewis said.

“Normally doctors can help you with the illnesses with medicine and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Lovell said. “But this program is for people who need more. We also have psychiatric services. I don’t know that you ever fix the problem, but this program can help a lot of people, and everyone can get help.”

Feedback on the program has been positive.

“It was a marvelous decision to get involved in the program,” Lewis said. “The feedback we’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s good knowing that we have been able to help people in the area.”

Barbara Jackman, executive director of the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, which oversees the Bassett clinic, said the program fills a gap.

“Many health care providers are not fully trained to diagnose or treat mental health problems, yet patients with these conditions are typically seen in primary care facilities more than in any other setting,” Jackman said.


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