CHI Health Behavioral Health Partners with NICUs, Oncology to Help Patients

Since June of last year, CHI Health’s Behavioral Health service line has worked in a unique way with system hospitals to identify patients in need of intervention who may otherwise fall through the cracks. At Lakeside and Creighton University Medical Center - Bergan Mercy, the service line has partnered with teams in the hospitals’ NICUs who screen birth parents or guardians and determine whether they can benefit from mental health services. At St. Elizabeth, Oncology patients also are being screened and referred to local behavioral health providers as part of their overall care as they face a cancer diagnosis.

CHI Health Market Director of Outpatient Behavioral Services Kenneth McCartney explained that the partnership with the NICUs seeks to provide more structure to the referral process. In addition to helping provide parents and guardians who may need mental health services ease of access, the goal is to also coordinate care with providers treating patients in our clinics once they leave the hospital.

“We try to connect parents with the closest provider so they can treat these individuals if ongoing therapy is needed once the baby is out of the NICU,” McCartney said. “When transportation is a barrier, someone at home with a young baby has the option to receive these services virtually.” He added that services are offered regardless of whether the patient’s obstetrician is a CHI Health physician, although having integrated providers that work together is a plus.   

At St. Elizabeth, William Goodenkauf, Director of Oncology Services, along with Oncology Social Worker Carly Hunt, are leading a pilot to help patients diagnosed with cancer receive needed mental health support. The 10-month-old pilot is the first of its kind in the Lincoln market.

“A cancer diagnosis can be very overwhelming, and patients are so worried about the physical aspects that they do not consider the mental health effects like anxiety or depression,” Goodenkauf said. “Behavioral health services in these cases are often underutilized at a time when it is vital these patients have mental health support. Being mentally sound can really help with the disease state.”

In the outpatient Cancer Care departments including the Radiation and Infusion Center, patients are given a self-administered Psychosocial Distress Screening Tool to complete at various times during their treatment course. This tool screens for many aspects of a patient's well-being including emotional distress, and prompts the Nurse Navigator or Oncology Social Worker to have a discussion with the patient about resources and services available. Unless they have a preferred provider outside of CHI Health, St. Elizabeth is currently referring patients to Autumn Ridge Integrated Health Clinic in Lincoln. 

“We have found that patients that are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, and the treatments that accompany it, often need supportive counseling services,” Hunt said. “It can be difficult for patients to access mental health care in Lincoln in a timely manner and to navigate those options. It has been very helpful to be able to offer a good option for counseling that can be accessed fairly quickly due to the working relationship that we have within the CHI Health system.” 

Hunt added that she believes it  would be very beneficial to be able to offer this service to more patients with different acute and chronic health conditions. 

“Health issues can be very stressful and overwhelming,” Hunt noted. “And mental health interventions can help patients to adjust and gain coping strategies.”