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Community Care of W.Va. plans to expand mental, behavioral health services

BUCKHANNON – Community Care of West Virginia has plans to expand its behavioral/mental health programs.

Kristi Walker, director of special projects for Community Care of West Virginia, spoke during the Feb. 15 Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur to discuss Community Care’s behavioral health services.

“We currently offer behavioral health services in all of our locations, except Pocahontas [County],” Walker said. “It’s been hard to recruit medical providers or behavioral health providers to that location. We started our behavioral health program in 2015 with a psychiatrist, two counselors and one case manager.”

As a Federally Qualified Health Center or FQHC, Community Care has expanded its program to 75 employees, with three board-certified psychiatrists, two psychiatric nurse practitioners, 29 therapists, and 16 case managers and support staff.

“I don’t know how many of you have watched the Olympics, but some of the Olympians were talking about mental health,” Walker said. “This is something that’s now become front and center, especially during the pandemic. I think it has really brought it forward.”

She said from March 2020 to October 2020, there has been a marked increase in mental health-related emergency department visits. For kids ages 5 to 11, that figure has increased 24 percent and for youth ages 12 to 17, it has climbed 31 percent.

“The number one thing is bullying and the anxiety that that creates,” Walker said. “The kids are bombarded with social media, so they’re not only getting bullied at school, but then it’s a constant on social media platforms all night long. Sometimes the parents don’t even know it’s happening because the kids stay in their room with their door shut, so suicide rates among children are increasing.”

Walker said there was a suicide in Lewis County two weeks ago.

“The things kids are dealing with now are just so much more constant than what they were before, with the isolation that the pandemic caused,” Walker said. “We have kids that were engaged in activities that suddenly lost their identities because those activities were gone. You suddenly lost your senior football season, your soccer season, your student government activities — you lost all those connections to your communities.”

She said they have had 19,000 therapy visits just last year and 8,000 psychiatry visits.

“One thing that has really been a barrier is the lack of providers. Even in the larger urban areas, there just aren’t enough providers to be had, so we’re hiring people as fast as we can, which also means we’re hiring therapists and we’re supporting them with training and with supervision from our older folks,” Walker said. “We’re trying to be creative recruiting people and how we can get people trained to be therapists, and then we’re also we’re also looking for ways to integrate behavioral health into the primary care setting, so that’s all going to be a new mindset for us.”

She said their biggest obstacle could be overcoming the stigma attached to mental and behavioral health conditions.

“In reality, there’s always something going on behind the scenes, and I think bringing awareness to it — getting rid of the stigma for mental health — is really going to help more of these people, who the kids look up to, if they’re reaching out and they’re focusing on their mental health, then that means it must be okay for them to do it, too,” Walker said. “We see a lot of anxiety, we’re seeing a lot of eating disorders, we’re seeing a lot of borderline personality disorders, but most of the anxiety-type things, we could probably lessen with just some systemic changes to the way that we all think about behavioral health.”

More details on CCWV’s behavioral health offerings may be found here.

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