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Sapphire Community Health Center is one of a dozen community health centers in Montana selected to receive $167,000 each annually from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to combat substance use disorders and offer mental health services.

Sapphire Community Health will use the funds to offer Integrative Behavioral Health Services (IBHS) including prevention or treatment of mental health conditions and/or substance use disorders (SUDs), including opioid and methamphetamine use disorder.

Janet Woodburn, CEO of Sapphire Community Health Center in Hamilton, said the key is integrative services.

“The whole field of medicine is moving toward Integrative Behavioral Health,” Woodburn said. “What we understand is that social determinants of health are an important factor in people’s well-being. Think about it, most of the time you get sick when you’re stressed out. We know stress impacts your immune system and you’re not able to fight off the diseases and bacteria that are common in our environment.”

Only a small amount of health is medically determined and then social determinants make the bigger impact on our health - such as stress, environment, homelessness, depression and events like a death in the family or divorce.

“Making each patient a partner in their own health care along with their provider is the new trend in medicine,” Woodburn said. “Today we want patients to have a stronger interplay with the medical provider. We want behavior and mental health and care managers who go a step further – examining social issues, resources and encouraging patients to actively engage in health.”

Currently Sapphire Community Health employs four medical providers, one psychiatric nurse practitioner, two mental health providers and one licensed addition counselor.

The federal grant funds will be used to hire two full-time positions - an Integrative Behavioral Health Therapist and a Care Manager.

The Care Manager (a Registered Nurse) will work with patients who are at high risk for poor health, identify barriers to care and to understand the interplay between physical health, mental health, social issues and resource needs. The Care Manager will also encourage patients to actively engage in their own health, create care plan objectives and work toward maintenance or improvement of health.

The Integrative Behavioral Health therapist (a licensed social worker or licensed therapist) will be available every day to consult with medical providers, provide support for planning and carrying out the treatment plans. They will provide consultation and coordinate care of the patient with primary care giver, mental health specialists and behavioral health services as needed, and in the event of a psychiatric emergency.

Woodburn said that in the same way we are a whole person, the mental provider, physical provider and patient can form a strong team of three working as one towards the same goal of better health.

“Say Jane Smith came in wanting some sleep medication and the provider says ‘why haven’t you been sleeping?’ and the patient says ‘well, it just has been happening since I was divorced,’” Woodburn said. “If the medical provider identifies that the illness may be caused by a behavioral health or stress related issue they may choose to invite the behavioral or mental health therapist into the medical exam room while the patient is there.”

In medicine this is called "the warm hand-off."

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“We will still help you get sleep medication but we want to get to the root of the cause and not just treat the symptoms,” Woodburn said. “It is new medicine, and it is not just new with Sapphire. It is a new model that the whole nation is adopting in medical care – which is recognizing how stress affects our health.”

Medicine is changing, creating honesty between partners.

“I could talk to you all day long about your diabetes but if you’re not invested in changing your diet or lifestyle there is only so much a physician can do, and they are finally starting to acknowledge that,” Woodburn said. “It is estimated that 85 percent of diseases are considered by social determinants.”

The grant is designated for combatting substance use disorders and offer mental health services.

Woodburn said rather than opioids, Montana has a methamphetamine crisis.

“We treat all drugs the same – so if you are an opioid addict, meth addict or alcoholic, treatment is the same,” she said. “The research shows that whether people are made to come in, or they come in on their own, the recovery is the same. The therapist’s job is to help you figure out you have a problem.”

Sapphire Community Health is a community-based, outpatient primary health and mental health care center designed to work with the communities of the Bitterroot Valley. Sapphire Community Health’s core belief is that the health of the individual, the family and the community are inextricably linked. They were awarded their initial funding and designation as a community health center in 2015.

The open positions at Sapphire Health Clinic will be posted on “Indeed,” an online job site.

Other health centers in Montana selected to receive a $167,000 grant are in Butte, Libby, Kalispell, Hardin, Cut Bank, Great Falls, Billings (2), Livingston, Shelby and the Missoula City/County Health Department.

These Montana Community Health Centers will use these grants to expand services for their patients with substance use disorders by using more counselors and health care providers to offer integrated behavioral health services.

“Montana has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, and it’ll take an all-hands-on-deck effort to solve it,” said U.S. Senator Jon Tester in a press release. “These grants will help in that effort by giving our communities more tools and better resources to deploy against substance misuse, especially in rural areas—helping create a healthier, safer Montana.”

The grants will be renewed annually.

To contact Sapphire Community Health, 316 North Third Street in Hamilton, call 406-541-0032.

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