St. Mary’s County Health Department is partnering with WellCheck and local community organizations to improve access to healthcare in one of the country’s most underserved communities.
The new St. Mary’s County Health Hub will provide residents with easy access to affordable behavioral health resources, primary care health services, substance use recovery groups, and additional wellness programs.
WellCheck is a key partner in the Health Hub effort by helping residents register for health services through a user-friendly registration portal. This portal will also directly connect residents to various wellness resources and treatment programs.
Lack of Access to Mental Health Care
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, considerable gaps in access to mental health care existed for many underserved communities. In St. Mary’s County, one health care gap is the lack of mental health crisis facilities. St. Mary’s residents who experience a mental health emergency are often faced with only two options: attempt to suppress their mental health needs or rely on emergency health care providers.
A recent St. Mary’s County Health Department health status report revealed, “In 2017, the rate of emergency department visits for mental health conditions in St Mary’s County was 6173.1 visits per 100,000 population. This was a 28.1% increase from 2010.”
Since the pandemic, mental health concerns have surged, and many residents require mental health treatments. In response to this community need, St. Mary’s County Health Department aims to do more to address the mental health concerns in their community.
“We needed a place in our community where people could go 24/7. We realized there is no mental health or behavioral health crisis stabilization service in southern Maryland, and we want to develop that for our residents, ” said Dr. Meenakshi Brewster, St. Mary’s County Health Officer.
Advancing Health Equity In St. Mary’s Community
St. Mary’s County Health Department established the St. Mary’s County Health Hub particularly to help increase access to healthcare in a region experiencing a shortage of medical professionals. The wellness center will help to advance health equity by providing residents with access to mental health and primary care services, substance use recovery supports, and crisis stabilization services.
“Three zip codes right around the health hub, Great Mills, Lexington Park, and Park Hall. These zip codes in our community face the most significant shortages of primary care and behavioral health treatment providers. So, the location of the health hub in an area with a severe access to care issue is a game changer,” said Dr. Brewster.
St. Mary’s County Health Department plans to open an onsite primary care clinic to help address the area’s federal designation as a health professional shortage area. This clinic will provide residents access to disease prevention services, acute injuries and sickness treatment, COVID-19 tests, and vaccinations.
Using the Power of Digital Technology To Improve Access To HealthCare
The Health Hub Registration Portal, built by WellCheck, a key partner in the St. Mary’s County Health Hub Alliance, helps community members signup for employment workshops, mental health services, primary care day reporting programs, and additional health hub programs.
When designing the registration portal, it was essential to create an online platform that everyone could use.
“One of the key things we need to consider when we are trying to advance health equity is that not everybody will have the literacy to answer questions, and not everybody will speak English,” said Dr. Brewster.
“WellCheck was able to develop a digital product that is user-friendly, available in both English and Spanish… and can be accessed on any smartphone or laptop,” said Dr. Brewster.
Additionally, this online registration process helps to alleviate the paper signup process, which makes it easier for St. Mary’s County Health Hub to track how many people are registering for health services.
This online portal provides the health hub with data on the most popular wellness programs, which helps the clinic develop better services for its residents.
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Addressing Barriers to Improving Mental Health Outcomes
One of the most significant ways to improve residents’ quality of life is to help residents tackle health-related social determinants such as unemployment, inadequate education, and lack of health insurance.
“We wanted to approach [ the health hub] as a whole wellness solution. It’s about all the parts of your life that impact your health and your ability to have stable mental health, such as employment, education, a safe environment and housing, and a strong support network that is important for mental health, ” said Dr. Brewster.
To achieve a whole wellness solution, St. Mary’s County Health Hub partners with local businesses and government organizations to provide programs such as employment services, financial workshops, literacy support, housing workshop, and a day reporting program.
For example, one partnership is with the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office to create a jail diversion program. Instead of being incarcerated, individuals can be placed in a home detention program. This service will require individuals to go to the health hub to receive mental health, substance abuse treatment, anger management and employment services.
The St. Mary’s County Health Hub will roll out additional health and wellness services in the next couple of months, such as employment assistance, tutoring, financial workshops, and more programs.
“To have all these amazing partners come together to figure out a way to make these health programs available to our community. I am excited about improving our residents’ health and wellness in St. Mary’s,” said Dr. Brewster.