By David Liebler.

There’s historically been a pioneer spirit in Mono County. That spirit is alive and well to this day; you see it as you travel along Highway 395. You hear it when you stop and talk to the residents of communities such as Bridgeport and Lee Vining.  That pioneer spirit is also alive and well in the Mono County Behavioral Health Department, where the staff is urged to be creative and look for new ways to engage clients and provide services.

The result has been the creation of a “Whole Person Wellness Approach” that looks at the totality of the client – not just the mental health side. It started by asking a consumer on each visit if he or she wanted a blood pressure check; from there, staff began tracking weight and surveying consumers on their perceived wellness. Soon, staff was having conversations with clients in a manner they never had before. Both staff and clients began to see the bigger health picture.

“We have now deepened our conversation about how we can ‘attach the head to the body’ by treating each of our clients with the Whole Person Wellness Approach,” explains Robin Roberts, the County’s Behavioral Health Director.

Robin is fairly new to county government. Coming from the private sector, she brought her own form of pioneer spirit to the department. Instead of dwelling on why some things couldn’t be accomplished, she worked with staff to focus on what could be done.  She isn’t one to quickly take “no” for an answer.

Robin arrived in California’s fifth least-populated county in early 2012, at a time when both the state and nation were engaged in the debate over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  “We knew we had an opportunity to create a unique, very small county response. We had vision, we had tremendous enthusiasm, and we had a goal – but where to start? How to get there?”

She began working with staff to create a new identity for the department. They set out to answer the question, “Who are we going to be as I became director and we begin to change the way we interfaced with our community? … We decided as a team to really start to work toward a community health kind of system rather than an individual mental health system.  How are we going to embrace everybody rather than just treating whoever walks in?”

“We believed that collaborative efforts would benefit staff and clients greatly,” Robin explains. As a result, Behavioral Health now works in closer collaboration with the physical health side of care within the county. There are now more referrals from one side to the other and fewer hospitalizations; the head and body are no longer being treated separately.

Obviously this new approach — this new attitude — is working. Demand for services has increased significantly. Clients are caring about their health, wanting to know how they are doing physically when they visit Behavioral Health for an appointment.  The connection between staff and clients is stronger than ever.

As Robin Roberts concludes, “In short, Mono County Behavioral Health has used health care reform as a jumping-off platform to engage with our clients in care that makes sense. We have found our identity as an agency and now have all of our care reflect quality, access and reliability.”

A little frontier spirit can go a long way.

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Originally posted at CSAC.