New Collaborative Pilot Program Hopes to Bridge Mental Health, Urgent Care

CODAC and Banner Urgent Care are partnering for a pilot program that aims to reduce emergency room visits and destigmatize mental health conditions among urgent care providers.

A new CODAC pilot program hopes to raise awareness and destigmatize behavioral health issues among urgent care providers. The program’s purpose is also to guide CODAC members to urgent care, rather than the emergency room, to treat less serious medical conditions that are often physical symptoms of their mental health illness, such as panic attacks and mild pain.

The program, which is a collaboration with Banner Health, also focuses on “helping folks understand that as long as they are not presently in danger to themselves and others, it’s OK” to turn to urgent care, and not call 911, says Amy Mendoza, Vice President for Utilization Management at CODAC, and one of the pilot program’s organizers. Other CODAC staff involved includes Vice President of Nursing Stephanie Green and Senior Vice President for Clinical Services Eddie Ornelas. COPE Community Services and La Frontera are also partners.

There are two pressing issues with emergency room visits: the lengthy waiting periods, which can range between four-to-six hours on average, and the high costs, Mendoza says. “Having that resource available is vital for our members [to] receive priority,” Mendoza explains. “It’s a patient satisfaction thing [and] it reduces costs.”

In the Tucson area, the pilot program only takes place at the Banner Urgent Care location on Campbell Avenue and Prince Road, and it mostly runs on referrals—meaning CODAC members are directed to urgent care when appropriate.

Simultaneously, behavioral health trainings are offered to Banner Urgent Care staff to teach them the best ways to help patients with mental illnesses. The training was distributed to all urgent care providers in Pima County, as well as two in the Phoenix area, Mendoza says. Similar pilot programs are taking place at two separate Banner Urgent Care locations in Mesa and Glendale.

“We have to think from their perspective. Banner Urgent Care staff isn’t necessarily familiar with the common behavioral health diagnoses that we deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Mendoza says. “For example, psychosis, or anxiety, or somebody who comes in with suicidal or homicidal thoughts, or someone who has a major diagnosis with substance use disorders. So, we created a six-part training, which deals with those areas in addition to social determinants. The last one is psychiatric symptoms that may manifest as medical symptoms.”

Providing urgent care staff with mental health training is crucial to foster a more integrated medical perspective, as well as to continue humanizing—not demonizing—mental health diagnoses.

“As staff, if you relate…not sympathy, but empathy toward that particular member, they will respond really well. The only way that empathy is created is by understanding,” Mendoza says. “As long as we have this [resource] out there and we continue to coordinate with this particular urgent care, it will help promote that. [It will help] reduce stigma by providing education and training.”