Valeo’s community supporters gathered Wednesday to celebrate the reopening of the behavioral health organization’s primary care clinic, which made medical services easily accessible for a population that can be fragile and difficult to reach.
Primary Care at Valeo shut down earlier this year after St. Francis Health was forced to pull its financial support for the clinic’s staff as the health care system was put up for sale. But a $250,000 gift from the St. Francis Foundation allowed it to reopen, officially beginning to see patients in October.
The clinic, which reaches such a vulnerable population, is an excellent example of people in the community working together to be successful, said Bill Persinger, Valeo CEO. He and others expressed their gratitude at the support from the St. Francis Foundation and the Washburn University School of Nursing, which helps to staff the clinic.
”It’s so important that we heal the mind and the body and the spirit, and all those things are wrapped up in a person’s recovery plan,” Persinger said.
Frank Henderson, deputy director at the Topeka Rescue Mission and also chair of the Valeo board, said primary care services was critical — not just for Valeo patients, but for the community.
“The primary care clinic initially was established back in 2013,” he said. “The focus has been on providing that much-needed primary care to our community’s most needing members and engaging them in that primary care environment as a means of improving the health outcomes and reducing emergency department utilization.”
In its initial three years of operation, the clinic did indeed impact emergency department use, he added, showing an 11 percent reduction in emergency room use by patients who engaged with the clinic for more than a year.
Henderson strove to put the clinic’s services in a personal light, outlining two patients, identified only as Terry and Jean, who needed the intertwining of behavioral health and primary care services.
”Terry did not have a primary care provider but had some health concerns. He chose, like many folks, to not go to the ER, and he didn’t have a doctor,” Henderson said. “So he started self-medicating with substances. That behavior continued and he found himself in a situation where he was addicted and homeless. Thanks to Valeo Recovery Services, he is now 98 days sober and is getting proper medical care through the primary care clinic.”
Jean, diagnosed with schizophrenia, had seen her mental and physical health decline in recent years. After several health difficulties, it was discovered that she is diabetic and hadn’t been receiving proper medical care. Coordinated services now help her manage both diabetes and mental health needs.
Coordination is key to the clinic’s success.
Alice Weingartner, director of community development for GraceMed Health Clinic, attended the celebration Wednesday to show her support for the necessity of services like Primary Care at Valeo in Topeka.
“It really has a positive impact because we know there are a number of individuals in our community who need this level of care,” she said. “Valeo has the staff who can address those severe mental health issues and being able to do that on site in a place that those individuals are comfortable is really important. We’ll continue to partner as we identify those folks that might be better served in GraceMed’s primary care setting. There’s still a lot of back and forth.”
Access to behavioral health care is a primary concern of anyone in the physical health care world too.
“I think a lot of times, there’s this disconnect between someone who’s suffering from a chronic illness who a lot of times is suffering from a behavioral health challenge as well,” Weingartner said. “They know they have this chronic condition and now they’re anxious about it or they’re depressed about it. How can we help address that in a comfortable setting where they’re ready to start making those life changes to help them?”
Ashley Charest, vice president of resource development for the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce, said along with providing needed health services, the clinic created six full-time jobs.
“Job growth is economic development, so for that, we’re especially grateful,” she said.