Addressing Behavioral Health Resources and Costs in Ohio

Like many in the U.S., Ohioans are facing a historic shortage of behavioral health resources. But Alera Health’s population health management tools will help the Ohio Behavioral Health Providers Network better integrate mental health care.

Meanwhile, the state’s Miami University has awarded $1 million in funding to the Ohio Alliance for Population Health for the Southern Ohio Behavioral Health Corridor to support future behavioral health professionals serving the state’s rural areas.


In 2020, the Appalachian Regional Commission reported Creating a Culture of Health in Appalachia: Disparities and Bright Spots that the supply of mental health providers per 100,000 people in Appalachia, Ohio, is 51% lower than the national average, and 41% lower than the Ohio average outside Appalachia.

The report further noted that suicide rates among the largely impoverished population, among other things, key findingswas 19% higher than the national rate and 26% higher than the Ohio (non-Appalachian) rate at that time.

Since then, efforts have been made to improve care for people diagnosed with primary or secondary behavioral health disorders and to expand the behavioral health workforce.

On Monday, OBHPN announced a new partnership with Alera to create a clinically integrated network to expand access to care, improve health outcomes and lower costs, according to an announcement from the population health management company.

OBHPN specializes in integrating behavioral health and primary care services provided by more than 25 hospitals, certified community behavioral health centers, state-licensed health centers, and social services to more than 225,000 Ohioans in 66 counties.

According to Alera, the organization’s caregivers serve more than half of the state’s population with serious and persistent mental illnesses, and they serve as a safety net for those suffering from comorbid behavioral and medical conditions.

The company said the new digital infrastructure — including data analytics and other care coordination tools — will help OBHPN providers address a long-underserved patient population with complex behavioral, medical and social needs.

The self-governing ONEcare networks will have access to clinical and operational process improvements and remote patient engagement tools to enhance value-based care agreements. These agreements recognize and promote access to care, patient accessibility and satisfaction, preventive care and avoidance of unnecessary healthcare costs, Alera said.

“OBHPN is ready to take the next step toward the future – a future in which patients with behavioral health conditions can expect to be treated with care and respect, and in which behavioral health providers are recognized for the invaluable role they play in providing integrated care for the whole person,” said Eric Morse, CEO of The Centers and chairman of the OBHPN board of directors, in the statement.

“OBHPN is confident that partnering with Alera Health will provide us with the experienced contracting, data and care coordination support we need to take this next step.”

Meanwhile, Ohio University announced last month that the Ohio Alliance for Population Health will use $669,843 of a $1 million grant from Miami University to establish a behavioral health corridor in southern Ohio to improve supports for students pursuing a career in behavioral health.

The Southern Ohio Behavioral Health Corridor is a partnership between the two universities and five two-year colleges in southern Ohio and is funded by the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

The Alliance works on a wide range of topics, but also involves administrators, healthcare professionals, academic researchers and policy experts from more than 50 affiliated universities, hospital associations and healthcare providers in the process.

The funding will provide scholarships, living allowances and paid internships to students from sophomore year through graduate school, the news.

A key component is encouraging pre-degree students and others who plan to remain in the region to complete their education and provide much-needed mental health care in the rural region.

“The shortage of mental health professionals in Southern and Appalachian Ohio is not just a statistic, it is a crisis that is preventing individuals and families from receiving the support and care they need,” Caitlyn Riederer, interim director of human resources at Integrated Services for Behavioral Health, said in the statement.

“By diversifying pathways to employment and supporting workers in continuing their education, the system can better respond to behavioral health issues and their social determinants in homes, clinics, libraries, schools and communities across the region,” adds Justin Wheeler, assistant professor in Ohio University’s College of Health Science Professions.


In April, Brian Dixon, a researcher at Indiana University’s Regenstrief Institute and interim director of the Clem McDonald Center for Biomedical Informatics, spoke with Healthcare IT News on novel analysis strategies for patient-centered population health.

He said encouraging patients to participate more actively in their care and involving them in shared decision-making are essential to addressing public health challenges.

Developing patient analytics for population health can no longer rely solely on electronic health record data completed by healthcare providers. Patient-provided data, external monitoring, and other sources, such as social determinants of health data, are needed to break down silos.

To enable better patient analytics, “there are different ways to integrate the data into workflows,” he said. The challenge is to process data from a large number of devices into enterprise systems.

As we traditionally do in health care, “we still operate in a somewhat siloed way,” Dixon said, “but that’s where we need to think about: How do we go from a great app here and a great device there from different companies to an ecosystem” that serves other patient groups.


“With mental health care driving up medical costs 3.5 times higher than normal, we believe the only sustainable solution is to build care communities that include all providers working with people with mental health issues,” said Mike Rhoades, CEO of Alera Health, in a statement.

“The dual opioid and then COVID pandemics have made it clear that behavioral health is personal to all of us. It’s time we take that personal impact and use it to drive real and lasting change in the systems of care that support people with behavioral health conditions.”

Andrea Fox is Editor-in-Chief of Healthcare IT News.
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