Record editorial: County takes significant step toward improving access to mental health care
A round of applause broke out in the Summit County Council chambers last week when the elected officials finalized a deal for University of Utah Health Plans to provide state-mandated mental health and substance abuse services on behalf of the county.
Residents should be cheering, too.
The agreement is intended to make it much easier for Medicaid recipients and people without health insurance to receive that care, which falls under the umbrella term of behavioral health, moving us significantly closer to the goal of ensuring everyone in our community, including the most vulnerable among us, can get the help they need.
For example, instead of directly employing health care providers, University of Utah Health Plans will use a network model that will more than double the current number of care managers available for Medicaid recipients and uninsured patients and more than triple the number of available clinicians. And those numbers may continue to grow. Wait times for care — which can stretch for months — should be dramatically reduced.
The benefits of the model may not stop there. Eventually, officials hope, it will allow for the creation of a central hub such as a phone number or website that any resident, including those who have insurance, could use to find mental health or substance abuse care, making it much easier for all residents to access those critical services.
These are goals University of Utah Health Plans, which bills itself as being able to tap into a network of more than 250 in-state specialists, should be able to achieve.
Summit County has made remarkable progress in addressing the shortfall in mental health and substance abuse services since broad community support began to coalesce around the topic in 2015. But a successful implementation of the University of Utah Health Plans model would be among the most significant steps yet in making a tangible difference in the lives of people who need behavioral health care.
Rich Bullough, the director of the Summit County Health Department, apparently agrees, telling The Park Record, “I think there will be a day, honestly, there will be an entirely different presence and an entirely different conversation around behavioral health.”
If that day comes, a community that has rightfully identified mental health as one of the most important issues we face will have all the more reason to stand up and applaud.
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