Emory health policy professor Benjamin Druss, MD, MPH is working with a number of leaders in Georgia's federally designated community health centers to improve their ability to detect and treat depression.
The project, funded by a $217,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will help community health center executives improve the depression care provided by their centers. Dr. Druss and his Emory research team are collaborating with the Carter Center and the Morehouse School of Medicine on the initiative.
According to national statistics, community health centers provide primary care services to many of the nation's poorest, most isolated and vulnerable communities. The 843 federally designated community health centers nationwide provide primary care services to more than 11 million individuals, more than two-thirds of whom have incomes below the poverty line, and 60 percent of whom are persons of color.
"Medicaid cuts and rising numbers of uninsured patients have left many community health centers with rising caseloads and shrinking resources," says Dr. Druss, Rosalynn Carter Chair in Mental Health, Department of Health Policy and Management, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University. "In these lean financial times, the most vulnerable resources at the centers have been those beyond the core set of primary care services that they are mandated to provide, such as resources for mental health care."
Four of Georgia's community health center CEOs (representing Palmetto Health Council, MedLink Georgia, TenderCare and West End Medical Center) are participating in the project. They met in early March to discuss their needs for depression care, specific challenges and opportunities for improvement. The centers represent both rural and urban populations and have varying degrees of mental health resources available.
In the next phase of the project, a team of mental health and Medicaid experts will help the chief executive officers identify practical and reimbursable methods of improving their organizations' depression care. They will meet regularly with community health center leaders over the next year to help them accomplish their goals and troubleshoot problems that arise.
"We know that depression can be effectively treated in primary care settings," Dr. Druss says. "This project gives us a chance to translate that knowledge into action, by working to improve care for depression in Georgia."