On October 18, 2022, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its plans to allocate new funding to combat the mental health crisis. Under the guidance of the Biden administration and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the HHS will award $15 million in grants to certified behavioral health clinics.
LifeScienceIntelligence sat down with Richard Daley, CEO of Sunwave Health, to discuss the implications of these grants and the importance of investing in treatments and technologies.
SETTING THE SCENE
To better understand the reason behind these HHS grants, it is essential to understand the current landscape of mental healthcare and treatment. Current significant difficulties in the mental health field include provider shortages and the seemingly never-ending substance use crisis.
Mental Health Professional Shortage
Considering the impending shortage of mental healthcare professionals, allocating resources to treatment has become increasingly important. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, over 150 million people live in an area with a shortage of mental health professionals. Beyond that, the organization claims that the country is short between 14,280 and 31,109 psychiatrists. These grants awarded by the HHS may partially compensate for the shortage of mental health professionals.
Substance Use Disorder
In addition to the shortage of healthcare professionals, some assume that these grants were driven, in part, by the current substance use crisis in the US.
National Institute of Mental Health, a subset of the NIH, defines substance use disorder as “a mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to a person’s inability to control their use of substances such as legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications. Symptoms can range from moderate to severe, with addiction being the most severe form of SUDs.”
According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, as of 2022, over 37 million Americans over 12 years old used illegal drugs. While not all these drugs are addictive, opioid use, fueled by the ongoing opioid epidemic, is a significant contributor.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE HHS GRANTS
To begin, LifeScienceIntelligence asked Daley to give an overview of the grants given out and the services they are meant to fund.
“Most of the specific grants are going out to about 15 states,” began Daley. “To get started, it is approximately a million dollars per state in the grant. The intent is to improve health equity.”
“The healthcare industry is trying to get out into underserved communities. The grants are meant to go to areas that haven't had those kinds of resources in terms of substance use disorder and behavioral health,” he continued.
Daley remarked that these grants would help raise awareness of certified behavioral health clinics. As a result, providers and other trusted professionals will be more aware of the centers where patients can be referred for treatment. Daley anticipates that these grants will increase referrals from social workers, educators, emergency responders, and law enforcement.
Beyond raising awareness, Daley discusses the need to reduce turnaround time. He notes that it was one of the critical questions to ask. “When somebody gets in touch with one of these centers, how can the healthcare industry get the response time and engagement time down to less than 24 hours?” he inquired.
Daley estimates that only 54% of people referred to these community centers are engaged within 24 hours. “It goes up to 90% or 95% for those handled within a week, but we're trying to crush that down as much as possible,” he added.
Reporting and Metrics
Beyond raising awareness, enhancing patient experience, and other grassroots efforts, the grants distributed by the HHS will allow healthcare centers to collect more robust data on patient care.
“There's not a lot of consistent measurement when it comes to patient outcomes,” noted Daley. Even when data is collected on the number of positive patient outcomes, Daley asks, “what were the factors that drove those positive or negative outcomes?”
LifeScienceIntelligence asked Daley to explain how the facilities and partners working on these initiatives plan to sustain the changes after the grant money is spent. His answer tied back to collecting and standardizing metrics to prove change. As an aside, he notes that data-driven proof will always be a significant driver for grant money.
“It can't just be having a casual conversation with one of these centers that says, ‘yeah, we have better outcomes.’ They have to be able to prove it,” explained Daley. “Grants might dry up, but that's just a kick starter. That's what it's meant to be.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLECTING THE RIGHT DATA
After Daley commented on collecting data and metrics to support the process and clinics, LifeScienceIntelligence asked him to speak on gathering the correct data.
“As an EMR provider, Sunwave captures everything, from the time somebody talks to us about admissions,” revealed Daley. “We follow that data through that entire patient journey: when they're in treatment, they're taking surveys, and their therapists are filling out surveys, through the eventual outcome and discharge.”
Daley comments that beyond just collecting the data, which any organization with an EHR can do, these sites and researchers need to develop standardized data sets to understand what is working and what isn’t.
“We’re working with organizations like the National Association for Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP). And specifically, they've got a project called ForSE, and that's all around the standardization and the capturing of patient outcome data. Any EMR can provide this data. They started this up about two years ago. The industry will start to get some good analytics out of it in 2023,” explained Daley.
In discussing the importance of collecting the correct data, Daley also noted that his team had worked closely with industry leaders and providers to determine what data is of clinical value.
As these grants are distributed, and clinics and industry leaders put the money to use, it will be necessary for healthcare professionals to monitor what kinds of spending improve patient outcomes. With real-world standardized data, healthcare professionals may be able to incentivize organizations and payers to allocate additional resources to their clinics.
To read the full article: https://pharmanewsintel.com/features/hhs-grants-15-million-to-certified-...
For more information on Sunwave Health: https://www.sunwavehealth.com/