The COVID-19pandemic has revealed and exacerbated existing disparities in health outcomes and access to healthcare for people of color. The Kaiser Family Foundation Report (February 2021) asserts that although many Americans have reported negative impacts on mental health and well-being during the pandemic, Blacks and Hispanics have been more likely than Whites to report symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorder. The US Census Bureau (2019) reports that 15.5% of Georgians have no health insurance. Other Georgians have inadequate health coverage with severe limitations regarding mental health treatment. The pandemic increased the need for mental health services in a community with a dearth of options.
CaringWorks' Access Wellness project increases access and improves the quality of treatment for eligible uninsured and underinsured individuals who present with a serious mental illness (SMI), serious emotional disturbance (SED), or co-occurring disorder (COD). The target geographical area is Georgia's Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton, and Rockdale counties whose uninsured and underinsured populations are disproportionately Black and Hispanic. Eligible adults will likely include veterans, custodial mothers, deaf and hard of hearing individuals (DHH), returning citizens, individuals living with HIV/AIDS, and LGBTQIA persons. Utilizing this grant, CaringWorks will serve a minimum of 100 unduplicated individuals in each of two grant years for a total of at least 200 served. The number of clients was determined by 1) the need in the catchment area and 2) agency capacity.
Access Wellness will utilize community-based partnerships, social media, and referral networks to reach eligible persons. The project will provide trauma informed screening, assessment, diagnosis, patient-centered treatment planning, and treatment. It will facilitate access to ancillary services to assist clients in applying for Medicaid, Medicare, or other relevant health benefits. Access Wellness will also provide staff training, expand the use of HIPAA-compliant telehealth services, and offer opportunities and resources to address the mental health needs of staff. Expected results include stronger community partnerships, knowledgeable and effective staff, efficient and ethical use of telehealth, increased access to mental health services for eligible clients, and improved health outcomes.
Based on the agency's experience, the annual cost per client ($5,000) is reasonable considering the services and support they will receive. The overall goal of the project is to increase access to clinical and community-based services for low-income, uninsured/underinsured individuals with behavioral health conditions. Using an external evaluator, Access Wellness will measure four specific goals: 1) Increase access to behavioral health and related services for a minimum of 200 under- or uninsured individuals with SED, SMI, or COD, 2) Maintain and/or enhance staffs' ability to provide evidence-based mental health practices and activities, 3) Improve clients' behavioral health status by providing comprehensive treatment and recovery services to a minimum of 200 clients, and 4) Improve staff capacity to engage in self-care by providing opportunities and resources to address the mental health needs of CMHC staff.