Jun. 23, 2022

HARRISBURG—Rep. Wendi Thomas (R-Bucks) today introduced legislation to improve access to mental health care in Pennsylvania through the Collaborative Care Model, an integrated care model that can deliver timely psychiatric care in the primary care setting. 

“In our state, more than 1.8 million individuals report having a mental illness, while 1.7 million residents live in a community without enough mental health professionals,” Thomas said. “The isolation and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic took an even greater toll on our state’s mental health.”

Pennsylvania lost 2,014 lives to suicide in 2021. 

“With a growing youth mental health crisis and a growing rate of opioid deaths, we must look toward solutions that expand the capacity of our existing workforce,” Thomas said.  “Better care coordination through the integration of mental health care in the primary care setting has been shown to improve patient access, outcomes and satisfaction.”

“For too long, primary care physicians have struggled to provide high-quality, accessible, affordable and coordinated mental health care to our patients,” said Matthew Press, MD, MSc, physician executive, Penn Primary Care, and medical director, Primary Care Service Line, Penn Medicine. “Collaborative Care is a proven solution, and our experience implementing it at Penn Medicine has been transformational.”

“Most mental health issues such as mild to moderate depression, anxiety, and alcohol use disorder can be treated within a Primary Care setting,” said Hope Selarnick, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society. “How do we expand on this? The solution is the Collaborative Care model (CoCM), which expands access to care exponentially. CoCM is patient-centered and evidence-based. The Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society embraces CoCM as the most viable solution to date. It is vital to support HB2686 for the health of our Citizens in the Commonwealth.”

“The World Health Organization reported that there are key advantages to delivering mental health care through primary care,” said Martin Raniowski, MA, FCPP, CAE, CEO and executive vice president, Pennsylvania Medical Society. “First and foremost is accessibility, second is affordability, and it is acceptable to people with mental health problems because they are already there with the primary care practice that they trust.” 

Several of Pennsylvania’s largest health care systems, such as Penn Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, have already established Collaborative Care Model practices, but have struggled to engage primary care practices in more rural parts of the state due to the start-up costs of the model. 

House Bill 2686 would create a grant program for small and solo practices to cover their Collaborative Care Model start-up costs, prioritizing those practices in rural and underserved areas of Pennsylvania. It would also establish a regional network of technical assistance centers to support promotion and implementation of the grants. 

With the Collaborative Care Model of treatment, the care team is led by a primary care provider and includes a consulting psychiatrist and behavioral health care manager. The team cares for a defined group of patients and closely tracks each patient’s progress using an evidence- and measurement-based care plan. 

Recent studies show that for every $1 spent on care delivered in the Collaborative Care Model, there is a $6.50 return on investment in improved health and productivity.

“I commend Rep. Thomas’s work on this bill to make a Collaborative Care Model of treatment more accessible to those in crisis,” said Frank Farry (R-Bucks). “As chairman of the House Human Services Committee, I look forward to advocating for programs such as this to help those in need of better, more directed care.”

“As we are seeing all across the country, people, particularly young people, who need psychiatric care have difficulties getting that care due to access limitations and cost,” Thomas said.  “We could reach many more people in crisis if that care could be accessed through their primary care physician.”

Representative Wendi Thomas
178th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: David Foster
RepThomas.com / Facebook.com/RepThomas