Grant, expansion bring Behavioral Health to Alexander Co. Health Dept.
By MICAH HENRY
A grant through the Duke Endowment has provided a new Behavioral Health Clinic at the Alexander County Health Department (ACHD), part of a recent expansion of services.
Ashley Moretz, Behavioral Health LCSW, came to ACHD in August 2019. Moretz explained that providing Behavioral Health services at a county health department is rather unique to Alexander, among all North Carolina counties.
As the clinician, Moretz is embedded as a staff member at the health department instead of the department contracting to an outside source for services.
“That’s a big piece in providing quality services to the community,” Moretz said.
Services for Medicaid patients are provided through Vaya Health and credentials are in place so ACHD can serve clients with private insurance as well. And thanks to the Duke Endowment, ACHD can provide services to the uninsured.
“That’s really important to me, as clinician, as someone who wants to serve. We are able to really help people and have some of the luxury of being able to serve them where they may not be able to reach services otherwise,” Moretz stated.
When Alexander County moved some offices to the new Alexander Services Center at 151 West Main Avenue, this allowed space for the new Behavioral Health Clinic while ACHD administrative offices moved into the former Extension Office building next to ACHD on 1st Avenue SW in Taylorsville.
Therapy rooms for adults and for children have been set up in ACHD, designed by the staff. A local donation from Mitchell Gold + Bob Wiliams provided furniture for the adult room. Kid-friendly items like coloring books, sand trays, modeling clay, and even a play tent help put the younger clients at ease.
“It’s really a welcoming environment,” Moretz said. “It’s not your standard clinical space with an unwelcoming vibe.”
Billie Walker, MSN, RN, Assistant Health Director at ACHD, said the Behavioral Health Clinic has been a vision for several years for herself and Leeanne Whisnant, RN, MS, Consolidated Human Services Director.
“We’ve seen our clients come in with different behavioral and mental health issues,” Walker said. “And there’s just not a lot of resources for them. So we have for years said, if we could just do something in-house with them, while they’re here, we would know that they’re getting services.”
This led to Whisnant writing a grant application and the department receiving a grant from the Duke Endowment.
For the first year, ACHD staff prepared the facility, spoke with providers and other entities about how best to provide behavioral health services, and hired Moretz, said Walker.
“There’s a great connection between Ashley and our nurses. If there’s something going on, she can actually walk right over and be involved in the clinical aspect as well,” Walker explained.
“Another aspect with our program is that we have set up a contract with RHA [mental health service provider] also in this community, to help with med management, as well as crisis needs that may be larger than what we can handle here in house,” Moretz said.
She emphasized that it is a community type program and relies on good cooperation with these other entities to serve everyone.
Walker reiterated that other health departments that offer behavioral health services do so by contract with a provider, and are bound by billing agreements with that provider, and thus cannot see clients who do not have insurance. Moretz, being an ACHD employee, does see uninsured clients.
The assistant director added that the department jumped from two regular health clinic rooms to six rooms with the recent move of offices earlier in 2020. There is also a separate area for immunizations, without clients having to enter the clinic area. Also, the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program clients visit a separate space, which shares a common waiting area with the Dental Clinic.
Previously, the clinic, immunizations, WIC, and lab all shared one small space, which had resulted in a bottleneck and longer wait times.
“Being all in-house, it really gives that flexibility to meet the whole person’s needs in one building,” Moretz added.
Electronic sign helps inform the public
Another new item this year at ACHD is an electronic sign which displays pertinent health messages to the busy 1st Avenue SW along by the Health Department. Upcoming clinics, vaccine opportunities, communicable disease warnings, and other news can be shown to motorists and pedestrians on the sign.
ACHD offers many health services to public
Other services provided at ACHD include:
• Child Health Clinic: comprehensive child health care to children, infant to 18 years.
• Care Coordination for Children: a case management program for high risk children, age birth to five years, for developmental screening, immunizations, and more.
• Communicable Disease staff offer investigation and follow-up of all suspected as well as confirmed cases of communicable diseases, animal bites, and food borne illnesses.
• Pediatric Dental Clinic: provides primary dental care to Medicaid, non-insured, and NC Health Choice children six months to eighteen years of age.
• Environmental Health: ongoing inspection of local food handling and lodging establishments.
• Health Education: presents health information to clinic patients, schools, civic groups, etc.
• Immunization Clinic: No fee charged for state required immunizations.
• Obstetrical Care Management: a program that follows prenatal patients during pregnancy and up to 8 weeks post-partum.
• Prenatal Clinic: provides prenatal care to women in Alexander County during the course of their pregnancy.
• Pregnancy Testing: fee charged; urine samples required.
• WIC Program: a federal supplemental nutrition program for pregnant, postpartum, and breast-feeding women and infants and children up to age five years.
• Women’s Preventative Health Clinic: provides physical exams, labs, contraceptive methods, and education related to women’s health issues.
COVID-19 brings more tasks to department
In addition to these tasks, the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has added to their duties tremendously, not only by setting up frequently drive through testing but also with community based-surveillance. This is where the staff calls the patient that is positive and gives the recommendations for isolation but also conducts contact tracing- which is communication with all the contacts that have been around a positive case. They also are responsible for monitoring and implementation of strategies for:
- COVID-19 in all high-risk healthcare facilities (e.g., hospitals, dialysis clinics, cancer clinics, nursing homes, other long-term care
- other high-risk employment settings (e.g. Meat processing facilities), and congregate living settings (e.g., prisons, youth homes, shelters)
- assisting the school system with any/all planning for situations that may arise with the return of staff and students
To contact the Alexander County Health Department, visit 338 1st Avenue SW, Taylorsville, call 828-632-9704, or visit www.alexanderhealth.org.