Ensuring that every patient has equal opportunity to achieve optimal mental health and wellbeing is the cornerstone of Alameda Health System’s (AHS) outpatient behavioral health services (OBHS) at the Wilma Chan Highland Hospital Campus (WCHHC) and Fairmont Rehabilitation and Wellness.

“The collective goal of our OBHS staff is to create a compassionate, equitable and culturally sensitive health care environment for our patients suffering with mental illness,” said Maurice Fried, PhD, OBHS program manager, psychiatry and behavioral health at AHS-Fairmont. “We meet our diverse patients where they are. We individualize their treatment plans and help remove barriers for achieving their highest level possible of independent functioning.”

Racial and ethnic minorities often suffer from poor mental health outcomes and face various obstacles including limited access, mental illness stigma, which is often greater in minority populations, language barriers and the lack of diverse, culturally competent providers.

In addition, while one in five American adults experience mental illness each year, African American, Hispanic and Asian adults with mental illness are less likely than white adults to receive mental health services according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These disparities can have powerful significance for minority groups and for healthy communities as a whole.

To help bridge equity gaps OBHS is prioritizing minority mental health through a continuum of outpatient behavioral health programs and care strategies rooted in diversity, equity and inclusion. The services provided include the Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), Outpatient Behavioral Health Services Clinic Program (OBHSC), and the Aftercare/Wellness Program.

Patients are referred to OBHS programs from multiple agencies across the County including Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services (ACBHCS),  John George Psychiatric Hospital and our four ambulatory wellness centers. “Each patient comes to us with different psychiatric disabilities, anywhere from severe to moderate and mild mental illness. We provide a supportive and inclusive home where they can receive care.”

For example, PHP serves patients experiencing moderate to severe psychiatric symptoms and who are transitioning from a residential or inpatient level of care. AHS provides transportation for patients to participate in structured treatment five days a week for four to six hours a day and they are still able to  live at home.

Therapy takes place in group settings to minimize social isolation and to encourage patients to connect with each other and with diverse care teams comprised of medical and support staff. Dr. Fried shared that because AHS serves a multiracial and multicultural community, it’s critical to have staff that reflect the community we serve. “It increases trust and improves the overall patient experience to have providers and staff who look like them, speak the same language and have similar cultural life experiences.”

The benefits for PHP patients include maintaining important links to family and community as well as medication supervision and management, education for understanding mental illness and reducing stigma, relapse prevention and symptom management. PHP patients are also connected to much-need resources for access to healthy food, transportation and financial assistance.

“Being part of this welcoming treatment community is priceless because it lets me develop and maintain invaluable relationships with peers and staff,” shared a patient from the intensive outpatient program. “That’s what personally gives me hope for the future.”

Because mental health impacts the entire family, the program encourages family involvement in treatment planning and family therapy is also available to support the patient’s resilience and recovery. Dr. Fried shared that a couple recently reached out to OBHS desperately seeking day treatment support for their thirty-year-old son diagnosed with schizophrenia.

He had been hospitalized many times, was not doing well on his current medications and they were concerned for his safety as his depression continued to get worse. People with schizophrenia can have higher rates of suicide at 10 to 15%. Individuals with severe mental illness will require lifelong treatment; and a program like PHP can be extremely beneficial for improving their quality of life.

“The parents are getting older and they needed to know that their son would be connected to someplace that is going to look out for him long term and provide him with quality medical oversight throughout his mental health journey,” said Dr. Fried.

Mental health is essential to a person’s life in the same way as physical health. In recognition of National Minority Mental Health Month, it is important to normalize conversations surrounding mental health so people can feel empowered to seek the help they need.

OBHS has developed an integrated continuum of care with programs tailored to meet the ongoing needs and goals of each patient and to reduce their risk of hospitalizations. They also rely on colleagues in the department of medicine to help with medical care for patients.

“An integral part of delivering on our mission of serving all is reducing inequities in minority mental health through culturally responsive outpatient care so that every patient reaches their highest potential to lead healthy, active and productive lives.”

For more information on PHP and all of the OBHS programs visit AHS’s Outpatient Behavioral Health Services.