Mental Health Issues Need Deeper Attention In D.C., Report Says

Place-based care’ and health literacy also cited

By: Armando Trull

Mental and behavioral health are two of the top concerns for many D.C. patients, according to a new survey by a group of District hospitals and health care providers.

The report, the Community Health Needs Assessment found that mental health challenges in the District aren’t necessarily linked to specific diseases, says Maria Gomez, executive director of Mary’s Center, one of the community-based health organizations that participated.

“It’s not just about people being schizophrenic or something like that — that everybody has some major mental health issue. But they are actually under a lot of pressure and they actually need to talk to someone,” she says.

At Mary’s Center, that someone could be Kara Lowinger, a mental health counselor who works with patients suffering from stress, trauma and other mental illnesses.

“What the survey showed is that there really is an underserved population with mental health needs,” she says.

Mary’s Center is trying to respond, Lowinger says.

“We’ve created an integrated behavioral health program that links patients when they come in for medical services to seeing a therapist right away when needed,” she says.

The assessment also uncovered a desire for more “place-based care” — which simply means making sure health care options are convenient for patients. It’s like the one-stop shopping available through some insurance companies, where primary care doctors and specialists work under one roof.

Care coordination — including the sharing of patient records quickly and efficiently across different health care providers — was seen as a crucial issue as well.

Alis Marachelian, a director at Mary’s Center, says improving health literacy was a fourth priority identified in the survey.

“A person might be a lawyer but might not know what fiber is or how to find fiber in food. So that’s the health literacy,” she says. “It’s not associated with actual education or literacy.”

Marachelian says it’s about engaging patients in understanding their illnesses and their treatment options — even how to take their medicine.

Survey respondents also said the literacy needed to cut both ways, and that the health care industry to be culturally sensitive to the rainbow of patients who call the District home: African-Americans, Latinos, Africans, Asians, Arabs, and members of the LGBTQ community.

The health coalition responsible for the survey says it’s working with District agencies and residents on a plan to address the four health concerns it found. The plan is expected in November.