United Way puts focus on mental health

The local chapter granted $73,000 to Family Medical Center for improved care of the mentally ill.


WALLA WALLA — A new funding focus will put $73,000 toward caring for those living with mental illness in the Walla Walla area.

United Way of Walla Walla County’s mental health task force recommended the amount be granted to Family Medical Center on Rose Street “because of its promise to make a measurable impact on the citizens of the Walla Walla area,” Christy Druffel, local United Way executive director, said in a release.

The amount is the largest single sum to be granted from the local chapter’s 2013 funding goal of $445,000.

The medical center has promised to address the “huge” lack of services in the area for those who struggle with mental illness, she said.

The U.S. Department of Social and Health Services ranks Walla Walla County in the bottom fourth of Washington state counties for its paucity of mental health-professionals. In 2011, the use of emergency rooms as a stand-in for regular mental-health care racked up $1.7 million in uncollected charges at local hospitals, Druffel said.

Last year, a community health assessment team said the area needs another 10 psychologists and 15 more social workers to meet the need here.

About 70 percent of all primary care provider visits include a psychological component, the task force found.

It makes the most sense to meet patients where they are and with the right tools, “rather than think, ‘How can we get people to somewhere else for treatment?’ ” said Seth Whitmer, executive director of Family Medical Center. “It takes away the stigma because its part of your medical care treatment.”

Family Medical Center will use United Way’s allocation to hire a behavioral health consultant for the three-year life of the grant to work alongside primary care physicians. During patient visits, the specialist will evaluate those with chronic physical illnesses for mental health issues.

Research shows people are more accepting of such interventions when they are delivered in primary care settings, where it’s a case of a doctor asking another member of the practice for an opinion and feedback, Whitmer said. “They’re working as a team to provide that care.”

Traditionally, mental health professionals are isolated from others in their field of care, as well as the medical community at large, he said. “And there’s not much communication.”

Having a mental health specialist involved in an overall treatment plan is bound to increase physician understanding of the mental health picture and patient compliance, Whitmer added.

“This is going to help with better outcomes,” he said. “This will help address a lot of needs that haven’t been addressed in the past, either because of stigma or coverage.

The approach has proven to work well in many areas of the country, Druffel said.

“It has shown a decrease in emergency room use, hospitalizations and readmissions,” she said. “In addition, it has shown an improvement in chronic disease outcomes, including cardiovascular and diabetes.”

United Way’s Community Impact Grant funding represents a new course for the organization, according to local chapter Executive Director Christy Druffel.

The agency has customarily served as a middleman, a link from donors to nonprofit organizations.

“In recent years, United Way organizations throughout the U.S. have adopted a community impact model to show that their programs have direct impact on the communities they serve,” she pointed out.

This funding model creates higher returns on United Way’s largely donor-funded investments through the use of best practices, measurable performance and evidence of effectiveness, Druffel said.

The 2013 Walla Walla United Way funding campaign goal is $445,000 and has nearly been reached, Druffel said.

Along with $73,000 earmarked for Family Medical Center on Rose Street, United Way of Walla Walla also awarded the following:

  • American Red Cross — $9,500
  • Blue Mountain Action Council — $15,000
  • Boy Scouts of America, Blue Mountain Council — $7,500
  • Blue Mountain Heart to Heat — $7,000
  • Camp Fire USA Walla Walla Council —$16,000
  • Catholic Charities Walla Walla — $11,500
  • Children’s Home Society of Washington — $32,000
  • Friends of Children of Walla Walla — $11,500
  • Girl Scouts Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho — $6,500
  • Helpline — $36,000
  • Lillie Rice Center — $3,500
  • Walla Walla Senior Citizens Center — $6,750
  • The Salvation Army Walla Walla — $7,500
  • Walla Walla Community Hospice — $11,000
  • YMCA — $18,750
  • YWCA — $30,000


Wayne 2 years, 1 month ago

Thank you, United Way! This is so needed in our community. It will save much more than the investment and make the patients feel more important than that they're just somebody to be stored in the ENT room for a while.


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