Learning how to recognize and respond to behavioral health issues

April 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Last month, Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA) kicked off a year-long seminar series designed to give important behavioral health training to clinicians, Member Service staff, and others who regularly encounter members with mental health issues. Covering BHtopics ranging from personality disorders to addiction to mental health law, the seminars give CCA staff the information they need to respond appropriately to a variety of situations involving members. In addition, the seminars let CCA staff discuss real-life case studies and share their personal experiences.

Peggy Johnson, CCA’s Chief of Psychiatry, explains that the seminar series was “prompted by a recognition that clinicians and those in Member Service need to have some basic understanding of mental health concerns because they show up in so many areas of our work.” Also, a number of recent encounters with members heightened the need for the training. “There were several incidents that happened recently in which members were threatening or whose behavior was potentially disruptive,” Peggy reports. “And this made us realize that we needed to do more in terms of education and training and enhance everybody’s capacity to respond in an informed manner”

Personality disorders and difficult patients
The training is geared toward clinicians, who are on the front-line in dealing with members with behavioral health concerns, as well as for Member Service staff, who often field calls from members who may be displaying behavior that suggests a mental health issue.  With this in mind, the first session on “Personality Disorders/Difficult Patients” presented basic information on the range of personality disorders and focused on the most common disorders that CCA staff may encounter.

According to Peggy, “there is a subset of disorders that are known in the medical world and the behavioral health world as being particularly problematic, and we tried to give concrete actions that can be taken to best manage these disorders.” The seminar used real-life situations to illustrate the disorders and teach the “concrete actions.” For example, Peggy says that she had been contacted by a Member Service representative about “a member who is calling repeatedly – every five or ten minutes –using abusive language and complaining.” This person, she states, was displaying “a level of intensity that was beyond frustration,” and that the member’s actions strongly indicated a mental health concern.

In the session, Peggy says, CCA staff examined case studies like this one and learned “how to set reasonable limits, how to mitigate some of the expectations that people have, and how to understand the steps they need to take in order to manage the individual appropriately.”

A chance to learn … and vent!
Some 75 people from CCA’s offices in Springfield, Charlestown, and Boston took part in the first session. Peggy says that the seminar started off with a formal presentation, and time was spent evaluating a case study and sharing personal experiences. “We’re trying to invite a lot of discussion and promote a level of thoughtfulness and engagement,” Peggy explains.  Feedback from the first session, Peggy reports, indicated that “folks wanted more information, but they also wanted an opportunity to vent. They wanted a chance to say ‘this is hard.’ And, I think that’s a good thing.”

Upcoming sessions
The next session, scheduled for April, will be focus on opiate management. Peggy says that CCA’s Medical Director of Addiction Service, Barbara Herbert, MD will be taking the lead for this seminar, which will “help people understand issues surrounding heroin addiction and addiction to prescription opiates as well, and develop strategies for dealing with people who are using and abusing.”

Here’s a look at the remaining CCA Behavioral Health training sessions:

  • May: Dementia/ Delirium
  • June: Anxiety Spectrum Disorders
  • July: Professional Boundaries
  • August: Psychopharmacology
  • September: Addiction Medicine: Alcohol Management
  • October: Mental Health Law
  • November: Mood Disorders
  • December: Happy Holidays: Well… Not Always


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